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Mar 07, 2013

Sitting Less Reduces Risk for Diabetes

Researchers have found that people with more sedentary time have poorer blood sugar control and higher cholesterol compared to those who are less sedentary, even after accounting for physical activity.

Current guidelines suggest that we get at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week to prevent type 2 diabetesheart disease and other chronic diseases. And to achieve these health benefits, physical activities should be moderate to vigorous—like jogging or running. So regardless of how we spend the rest of our time, if we get these 150 minutes of exercise in each week, we have nothing to worry about. Right?

Unfortunately, it turns out that the amount of time we spend sedentary may actually be more important than how much exercise we get, when it comes to prevention. A recent study published in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes) looked at two studies involving patients with known risk factors for type 2 diabetes, where sedentary time and physical activity were tracked over a period of time using accelerometers. Not surprisingly, researchers found that people with more sedentary time had poorer blood sugar control and higher cholesterol compared to those who were less sedentary. However, these differences still existed after taking into account physical activity. In other words, people who spent more time sitting or laying around had poorer markers of heart health than those who were more active, regardless of how much they exercised.

These findings could have a huge impact on guidelines for diabetes prevention. As mentioned earlier, healthcare providers recommend exercise—150 minutes of physical activity each week—to help prevent type 2 diabetes. But perhaps we should start focusing on limiting sedentary time rather than fitting in exercise here and there throughout our week. After all, most of us spend the majority of our days sitting at a desk or laying down in bed or on the couch, and this may have more of an impact on our health than small spurts of exercise. Although more research is needed to better understand the benefits of limiting sedentary time versus increasing physical activity, experts already suggest that reducing sitting time by as little as 90 minutes a day could lead to important health benefits. And if we limit sedentary time in combination with fitting in exercise on most days, we could see even greater benefits for our hearts and overall health.

Questions for You to Consider

  • How does sedentary time affect heart health?
  • Many studies have shown that time spent inactive—sitting or lying down—can have a negative impact on our health, increasing risk for heart disease and diabetes. Experts suggest that limiting or reducing sedentary time can help improve heart health, even if it means simply standing up or walking instead of sitting down for an hour or two a day.

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