Cutting down on sedentary time may lower risk of heart disease and diabetes, study finds

Photo (c) Vadym Petrochenko - Getty Images

Experts say being more active can help consumers’ long-term health outcomes

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Turku explored how consumers can work to lower their risk of serious health conditions. According to their findings, replacing at least one hour per day of sitting with physical activity can help lower the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. 

“It’s an encouraging thought that health benefits can be achieved by reducing the time spent sitting and increasing the amount of even light-intensity physical activity,” said researcher Taru Garthwaite. “For many, this may be an easier starting point than increasing actual exercise.” 

Benefits of staying active

The researchers had 64 middle-aged adults who were mostly sedentary and had metabolic syndrome participate in the study. While one group carried on with their usual routines, the other group was instructed to swap one sedentary hour of their days with more standing and light-intensity physical activity. The participants kept this up for three months and wore accelerometers to accurately measure their sedentary time, standing time, and active time. They also gave blood samples at the start and end of the study. 

“What makes our research design unique is that sedentary time and physical activity of both groups were measured with accelerometers throughout the entire three-month period, whereas in earlier studies activity has typically been measured only for a few days at the beginning and end of the study period,” Garthwaite said. “This makes it possible to receive more information on the actual behavior changes over a longer time period.” 

The researchers learned that swapping sedentary time for standing or active time was beneficial for the participants’ long-term health. The study showed that the participants in the activity group had lowered their total sitting time by about 50 minutes each day, and they were successful at being more active. 

This, in turn, improved their health in several key areas. The team reported improvements in insulin sensitivity, blood sugar regulation, and overall liver health. Because these participants had metabolic syndrome, they already had a higher risk for several health conditions, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Based on these findings, being more active and sitting less during the day can be effective at improving consumers’ health. 

While these findings are an important step in the right direction, the researchers hope consumers know that living a healthy lifestyle is key to improving long-term health outcomes. 

“Reducing the time spent sitting might still slow down the development of these diseases, but greater benefits can of course be gained by increasing the amount or intensity of physical activity in addition to sitting less,” Garthwaite said. 

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