A computer app prompting desk workers to take breaks from sitting leads to significant and lasting reductions in blood pressure, according to a study in the September issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

"An e-health solution designed to increase non-exercise physical activity by interrupting sitting time in the workplace is feasible and produced long-term reductions in blood pressure," writes Scott John Pederson, Ph.D., and colleagues of University of Tasmania, Australia.

The study evaluated a software application called Exertime, which encourages office workers to take breaks from sitting for non-exercise physical activity.

At scheduled intervals, the app presented workers with scheduled "movement break" screens. The break screens could be postponed, but once they appeared, workers had to click through each screen before they could resume working on their computer.

Findings

The study evaluated changes in blood pressure in 228 desk-based employees who used the app for one year.

The results showed "clinically meaningful" reductions in blood pressure, beginning within three months and continuing through nine to 12 months.

Average systolic blood pressure (the first, higher number) decreased by about 1 to 3 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury), while diastolic pressure (the second, lower number) decreased by about 4 to 5 mm Hg.

Larger reductions were seen in workers who had initially had hypertension (high blood pressure) or "prehypertension."

In those with hypertension, both the systolic and diastolic pressures decreased by about 8 to 11 mm Hg.

Implications

Prolonged, uninterrupted sitting has been linked to many health risks—including high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease—independent of physical activity level.

Taking regular breaks from sitting for non-exercise physical activity, such as standing or light walking, might help to reduce these risks.

The new results show that workers are willing to use computer prompts to take breaks from sitting, and that "it is possible to achieve a clinically meaningful reduction in blood pressure through regular movement breaks," Dr. Pedersen and coauthors write.

"The use of free-choice but regular low-intensity movements as the primary mechanism for health change is encouraging for interventions that target long-term sedentary populations."