Taking a break to walk every 20 minutes helps reduce the body's levels of glucose and insulin after eating, according to a study.
Though the results, published in the journal Diabetes Care, don't show whether these reductions have any lasting health benefits, experiencing large glucose and insulin spikes after a meal is tied to a greater risk of heart disease and diabetes.
"When we sit, our muscles are in a state of disuse and they're not contracting and helping our body to regulate many of the body's metabolic processes," said David Dunstan, a professor at Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia.
Mr Dunstan and his colleagues have reported previously that people who watch more than four hours of TV a day are likely to have an earlier death. With this study, they experimented with how prolonged sitting could affect responses to food.
After a meal, glucose levels in the blood go up, followed by a rise in insulin, which helps cells use blood sugar for energy or store it. Then, levels in the bloodstream start to go down.
In people with type 2 diabetes, this process falls out of whack usually because the body no longer responds to insulin properly. After a meal, blood sugar and insulin levels spike and remain high.
Dunstan's group looked at 19 overweight adults who didn't exercise much, asking them to come into a laboratory and sit for seven hours while having their blood sugar and insulin levels sampled hourly.
After the first two hours, they drank a 763-calorie drink high in sugar and fat, then sat for another five hours.
Each person went through three days of experiments, with each day separated by a week or two. On one day, they sat the entire time, only taking breaks to use the bathroom. On another, they broke up the sitting session and took a two-minute break to walk around every 20 minutes following the drink.