Standing more throughout the day is linked to better insulin sensitivity and may help prevent chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, according to a new study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport.
Insulin resistance happens when cells in the body become less sensitive to the effects of the hormone insulin, which helps regulate blood glucose levels. While insulin resistance by itself doesn’t mean your blood glucose levels will be abnormal, it indicates that a disease process may be under way — potentially leading to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Insulin resistance can lead to elevated blood glucose when cells become so insensitive to the effects of insulin that the pancreas can no longer compensate by producing more insulin.
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The study authors — researchers at the University of Turku in Finland — noted that while there is a large body of research on the impact of physical activity on insulin resistance, there is less published research on the effects of sedentary behavior, taking breaks from sitting, or standing on insulin function. For the latest study, they were interested in looking at how different types of behavior affected insulin resistance in working-age adults with low levels of physical activity and an elevated risk for developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They also looked at how other factors, such as body composition, affected insulin sensitivity.
A total of 64 participants took part in the study, with an average age of 58.3. These participants wore devices to monitor their physical activity and position over the course of four weeks. They also had their aerobic fitness measured using a stationary bicycle test, and had their insulin sensitivity measured using two different lab tests.
More time standing linked to improved insulin sensitivity
On average, participants spent 10.0 hours of each day sedentary, 1.8 hours standing, and 2.7 hours doing some form of physical activity. They took 5,149 steps and took 28 breaks from sitting or other sedentary behavior. When it came to insulin sensitivity, better results were seen in participants who spent less time sedentary and more time standing, who took more steps, and who had better cardiovascular fitness — after adjusting for participants’ sex and age. But after the researchers also adjusted for participants’ body fat percentage — a factor that is well known to be linked to insulin resistance — only the amount of time spent standing remained as a significant factor in participants’ insulin sensitivity, out of all factors the study measured.
While further studies are needed to confirm the link between standing and insulin sensitivity, the researchers wrote, “these findings encourage replacing sitting with standing for potential improvements in insulin sensitivity in adults at increased type 2 diabetes risk.”
The study’s finding that standing more may improve insulin sensitivity has never been found before in previous studies, according to a press release from the University of Turku. The next step for the researchers is another study that will “investigate how changes in daily activity and sedentariness impact cardiovascular and metabolic disease risk factors and metabolism,” by looking at the effects of a physical activity intervention in one of two study groups for a longer period of time.