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Listeners joined 'Body Electric' study to move throughout the day. Did it work?

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: Over the last six weeks, NPR has been collaborating with researchers at Columbia University Medical Center to see if listeners can add more movement to our screen-filled, sedentary lives. It's part of a special interactive series called Body Electric, which investigates the relationship between our bodies and our tech. Manoush Zomorodi has been our guide, updating us every week on this series. Hey there.


INSKEEP: OK, we're now getting to the final episode. What did you invite listeners to do?

ZOMORODI: Yeah. So let me remind folks. We all know our sedentary, screen-filled lives are bad for our health, so we wanted to see if we could do something about it based on findings from Columbia University's exercise lab. Researchers there have found that five minutes of movement every 30 minutes is the best way to counteract this lifestyle. But we wanted to see if people could actually manage all that movement and all those interruptions in the real world. And, Steve, over 23,000 people signed up to move for five minutes every half-hour, every hour or every two hours for two weeks and report back to researchers.

INSKEEP: What did the researchers find?

ZOMORODI: OK, so to be clear, these results are not peer-reviewed or published yet. They are preliminary, top-line findings, and they are fascinating, Steve. Columbia's lead researcher Keith Diaz found that people who took these movement breaks reported having a better mood, feeling more energized and, despite the interruptions, they felt more engaged in their work. Keith told me there was also a dose-response relationship. So take fatigue levels as an example.

KEITH DIAZ: So for fatigue levels, folks who moved every half-hour improved their fatigue levels by about 30%. The group that moved every hour improved their fatigue levels by about 25%. And the group that moved every two hours improved their fatigue levels by about 20%. So everybody improved, but the group that moved the most had the greatest improvements.

INSKEEP: What do you hear on an anecdotal level when you reach out to some of these thousands of people who joined the experiment?

ZOMORODI: Well, I have to tell you about a lovely listener in Dallas named Dana Lopez Maile. So Dana is 43 years old. She works remotely in HR for Hyatt Hotels. About a year ago, Steve, she had a stroke, and she found out that she has a genetic disease, arteriosclerosis, where fat and cholesterol build up in her arteries. So she joined the study, and she started using the treadmill that had been collecting dust in the corner of her home office. And it wasn't easy, but she figured out a way to coach herself to deal with the interruptions.

DANA LOPEZ MAILE: It's very difficult to make that mental switch of, I need to do this. It's going to make me more efficient. And that was the true difference - was the energy that I was feeling when I was taking these breaks regularly.

ZOMORODI: Dana felt better, but also, after we spoke, she texted me with the results of the latest round of bloodwork she'd done at the end of the project. Her blood pressure was down 40 points from before the project, and her doctor thinks she can get off insulin soon.

INSKEEP: Wow. I mean, that's fantastic. And it's great to have these overall results, even if they're not peer-reviewed. But what can we do with them now?

ZOMORODI: So the team at Columbia are going to keep combing through the data. Meanwhile, though, we are hoping that we help kickstart a broader conversation about ways to deal with the physical effects of all our screen and sitting time.

INSKEEP: Thanks for your insights. Manoush Zomorodi, host of the TED Radio Hour and the special series Body Electric. To hear the whole series, go to or find it in the TED Radio Hour podcast feed, and listen while you're walking around.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Manoush Zomorodi
Manoush Zomorodi is the host of NPR's TED Radio Hour. She is a journalist, podcaster and media entrepreneur, whose work reflects her passion for investigating how technology and business are transforming humanity. TED Radio Hour won the 2023 Ambie award for Best Knowledge, Science, and Tech podcast.