If you have prediabetes or are at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, you probably know that being physically active (along with healthy eating and losing weight) is a big part of diabetes prevention. Regular physical activity, such as walking, raking leaves, or climbing stairs, helps reduce insulin resistance, lowers blood sugar, burns calories, and lowers the risk for heart disease.
The dangers of sitting
Americans are sitting for longer and longer periods of time. The average office worker sits for about 10 hours a day — and those hours aren’t all at work. Writing, checking e-mails, and making phone calls account for a big part of inactivity. More sitting occurs during lunch, commuting to and from work, and then at home, watching television or spending time on the computer.
Sitting may seem inevitable, but unfortunately, it raises the risk of a number of health problems, including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer, joint problems, and even depression. Your metabolism (the rate at which your body burns calories) drops by about 90% after sitting for just 30 minutes. And good (HDL) cholesterol levels drop, too, with prolonged sitting. In addition, research has shown that men who sit for more than 6 hours a day have a death rate that’s nearly 20% higher than men who sit for fewer than 3 hours per day; for women, the rate is almost 40% higher. Unfortunately, going to the gym doesn’t negate the harmful effects of sitting, either.
The benefits of standing
According to the World Health Organization, about 95% of the world’s population is inactive, meaning that they’re not meeting the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity five times per week. Working at a desk job or driving, say, a bus for a living unfortunately doesn’t help matters, either. However, if you have a job or do activities where you’re standing on your feet most of the day, you have an advantage over folks who sit at a desk (or sit on the couch).
Researchers at the University of Leicester studied 22 overweight or obese women who were at risk for Type 2 diabetes. These women were assigned to the following conditions: sitting continuously for 7.5 hours or sitting that was broken up by either standing or walking for 5 minutes every 30 minutes. They discovered that the standing led to a 34% lower rise in blood sugar compared to a 28% reduction with walking. Insulin levels decreased by 20%, too.
What this means for you
You might be thinking that there’s no way you’re going to throw out your couch and chairs and stand all day. Nor do you have to. Besides, standing for too long isn’t necessarily good for your health either. Too much standing can lead to:
• Carotid artery disease
• Back pain
• Leg cramps
• Muscle fatigue
So what’s the answer? The key is to break up sitting with breaks of standing and, ideally, walking, even for a few minutes. You might consider getting a standing desk if your job entails sitting for long periods of time. Some people stand up when they talk on the phone. And if you have meetings at work, suggest a walking meeting, if possible. Even if you’re not working in an office, get up periodically: go for a short walk, march in place, or climb some stairs.
Five-minute standing or walking breaks aren’t a substitute for fitting in those 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week, but they can certainly help. And knowing that even this small amount of physical activity can lower blood sugar and insulin levels, it’s yet another tool to help lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes and perhaps even help improve diabetes control, as well.
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