Standing rather than sitting can reduce risk of diabetes and heart disease

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People who spend more time standing up than sitting down can reduce their risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, a new study finds.

An Australian study observed reductions in fasting blood glucose levels, triglycerides and cholesterol among people who replaced two hours of sitting time per day with standing.

Reduced diabetes risk

The University of Queensland gave 782 men and women activity monitors between the ages of 36 to 80. All the participants had signed up for the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study.

Their activity levels were measured 24 hours a day, over a seven-day week, with blood pressure, height and weight measured at baseline. The researchers were also able to assess how long participants sat, slept, walked and stood during this period.

The researchers noted improved fasting plasma glucose, more “good” HDL cholesterol and 11 per cent lower average fats in the blood from two extra hours spent standing than sitting.

Having high levels of HDL cholesterol can protect the heart, while reducing levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol – which is linked with stroke and heart disease – is important as this is a leading cause of death for people with diabetes.

Moreover, when sitting was replaced with two hours of stepping, further benefits were revealed. These included an average 11 per cent reduction in BMI and a 7.5cm average decrease in waist circumference.

Maintaining a healthy BMI is another crucial health aspect, as being clinically overweight or obese can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Importance of findings

Lead author Genevieve Healy, PhD, wrote: “These findings provide important preliminary evidence on the potential benefits of standing for cardio-metabolic risk biomarkers, especially improved lipid metabolism.

“This has important public health implications given that standing is a common behaviour, the most common alternative to sitting, and predominantly replaces sitting in some types of effective and acceptable environmental sitting-reduction interventions.”

Julie Ward, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, also highlighted the significance of the results. She said: “We know that people who spend long periods of time sitting down have been found to have higher rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” and insisted that standing “can be encouraged in the workplace with interventions such as sit-stand desks.”

The findings of this study were published in the European Heart Journal.