February 28th, 2013
04:29 PM ET

Sitting less may reduce diabetes risk

How long have you been sitting today? Here's one more reason that you should get up and move around once in a while.

A new study in the journal Diabetologia suggests that reducing your sitting time is more important in lowering your risk of diabetes than exercise. This is just the latest in a string of research suggesting that moving around helps your health. But the new results should not replace standard recommendations for exercise, and more research is required to understand the reasons for the findings, said lead study author Joseph Henson.

"It looks as if just sitting for long periods of time has a real negative impact upon overall health," Henson said.

6 ways to sit less every day

Why study diabetes

A chronic illness, diabetes reflects a problem in the body with the hormone insulin, which regulates blood sugar. The condition happens when the body can't use the insulin that it produces effectively, or when the pancreas doesn't produce enough of the hormone.

Henson, of the Diabetes Research Unit at the University of Leicester, wanted to explore this topic because of the increasing prevalence of diabetes worldwide. Nearly 350 million people around the globe have diabetes, according to the World Health Organization, and deaths from diabetes are expected to increase by two-thirds between 2008 and 2030.

"The increase in diabetes has been due to the fact that people have generally just gotten larger," Henson said. So as obesity has increased so has the prevalence of diabetes."

The trend is obvious in the United States. The number of people with diagnosed diabetes went from 5.6 million to 20.9 million from 1980 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This disease is also a huge driver of health care costs in the U.S., according to the American Diabetes Association.


This study looked specifically at people at risk of type II diabetes in the United Kingdom. Participants came from two diabetes prevention programs.

Researchers put accelerometers on 878 patients to see how much they moved or didn't move, monitoring when they took breaks from sitting down. They wore these devices on their hips for at least seven consecutive days, during waking hours, the study said.


The study found that sedentary time was associated with worse outcomes in "bad" HDL cholesterol, 2 h glucose and triacylglycerol, which are all indicators of metabolic and cardiovascular health.

Perhaps surprisingly, time spent sitting - not time spent exercising - was the factor most strongly associated with health outcomes examined in the study. Why? Henson said there may be a specific enzyme that responds differently when people are sitting, compared to when they exercise, but more research is needed.

Data from the study suggests that reducing time sitting by 90 minutes during the course of the day significantly lowers the risk of diabetes, Henson said.


This was not a controlled study, meaning the study authors did not deliberately prescribe a group a certain amount of physical activity and compare outcomes with another group who sat the whole time. A rigorous experimental design is necessary to more conclusively draw connections between behaviors and disease risk.


As has been demonstrated in other studies, taking breaks from sitting appears to be associated with better health indicators.

The participants in this study were already at risk for diabetes, so in a person who does not have a predetermined risk, "trying to move for 5 minutes every hour seems right," Henson said.

soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. infinitimel

    If you have a desk job it is challenging to reduce your sitting time per day, however if you make a conscious effort, it can be managed.

    February 28, 2013 at 22:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Timmy Suckle

    I sit all day too and you people actually PAY me to do it!!!!!! I kissed my way up to VP at a health insurance company. Now I take over $600,000 of your health care dollars for NO VALUE ADDED to your health care. And that’s just me. Now think about how many other VPs, Directors, Managers, etc. are at my company alone. Now multiply that by thousands of others at hundreds of other health insurance companies. From 10 to 25% of your health care dollars go towards administration that adds NO VALUE to your health care. But my company’s PAC dollars will continue to fool you little people into thinking that a single payer system will be bad. Little people like you are so easy to fool. Little people also don’t realize that a single payer system is the ONLY system that would allow little people (as an entire country) to negotiate better health care prices. Little people don’t realize that the Medical Cartels already know that. And that is the reason why the Medical Cartels spend so much PAC money from the hospitals and doctors lobbying against a single payer system. Some little people say that a single payer system would cost you little people more. But if that were true, then wouldn’t the hospitals and doctors WANT that extra money? Yes they would. So why do the Medical Cartels lobby against a single payer system? It’s because the Medical Cartels know it would allow little people to negotiate better health care prices. And that’s what the Medical Cartels are afraid of. Period.
    But us big wigs at insurance companies, hospitals, and pharmacy companies don’t ever need to worry about health care no matter what it costs. We get our health care paid for one way or another by you little people. And we get the little people that work at our companies to contribute to our PACs. And us big wigs say it’s to protect the little peoples’ jobs. But in reality it would be in the little peoples’ best interest to NOT contribute to the PAC. Again, little people are so easy to be fooled. I won’t ever have to worry about losing my job with so many little people being brain washed by the Medical Cartels’ PAC money. Not only that, the Medical Cartels’ PAC money is used to elect so many republicans that will never allow a single payer system. Republicans have always fought against any meaningful health care reform. But that’s what our Medical Cartels’ PACs pay them for. Politicians can be bought so easily.
    Pretty soon the only people that will be able to afford health care is us big wigs. And that’s the way it should be. We don’t want you little people using up the resources when we need them. And once again, I thank you little people for capping my SS tax at the $113,700 level. Now I only pay 1.2% SS tax and you little people pay 6.2%. Also, thank you for extending my tax breaks. I’m using the extra money on my vacation houses.

    March 1, 2013 at 10:23 | Report abuse | Reply
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    March 1, 2013 at 14:22 | Report abuse | Reply
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    March 1, 2013 at 14:27 | Report abuse | Reply
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    March 7, 2013 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
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    but how does this reduce the risk of diabetes

    March 10, 2013 at 21:55 | Report abuse | Reply
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