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Can Sitting Less Reduce Diabetes Risk?

Neil Donaghy | March 5th, 2013

Diabetic DietReducing the amount of time we spend sitting down can lower the risk of diabetes, according to a recent report in Diabetologia, a monthly journal published on behalf of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD). The study claims simply standing instead of sitting is even more important than exercise or diabetic diet in terms of lowering the risk, although lead researcher Joseph Henson points out that the findings should not replace current recommendations for exercise.

The research was prompted by the increase in diabetes, which has more than quadrupled in the U.S. since 1980. Worldwide, around 350 million people people suffer with diabetes, and deaths from diabetes are expected to increase by as much as 65% by 2030, according to the World Health Organization. America has some of the worst diabetes statistics, with nearly 26 million people currently diagnosed, and an estimated 79 million with pre diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Henson attributes the soaring figures to rising rates of obesity: “The increase in diabetes has been due to the fact that people have generally just gotten larger… So as obesity has increased so has the prevalence of diabetes.”

Reducing sitting time by 90 minutes lowers risk

Henson’s research looked at 878 patients at risk of type II diabetes. Accelerometers used to measure movement were placed on the patients to monitor their activities over the course of a week. The results showed more time spent sitting than standing or moving was associated with higher cholesterol and blood sugar levels – both indicators of metabolic and cardiovascular health.

The biggest surprise for researchers was the fact that time spent sitting was more strongly associated with health implications than time spent exercising. In other words, a sedentary lifestyle is more unhealthy than a physical lifestyle is healthy. According to Henson, more research is needed to understand why this is, though it’s suggested that a specific enzyme responds differently when people are sitting compared to when they exercise. The data indicates the likelihood of reversing pre diabetes is significantly higher when daily sitting time is reduced by 90 minutes. For individuals not currently at risk of diabetes, Henson says “trying to move for 5 minutes every hour seems right.”

The findings are supported by other studies that have shown an association between taking breaks from sitting and improved health.

No control group

The main scientific drawback of Henson’s research is the lack of a control group. Outcomes were not compared with a sitting-only set of participants, and some people in the medical community have called for a more rigorous experiment to establish a conclusive link between behaviour and disease risk.

Diabetic diet and exercise

Despite the recent findings, most physicians and nutritionists maintain the best way of reversing pre diabetes is through regular exercise and a healthy diet. A preventative diabetic diet is essentially the same as any other healthy eating regimen, and losing just 5% of body weight can bring blood sugar levels back within the healthy range.

Doctors at the Center for Medical Weight Loss specialize in helping to prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes through healthy eating and lifestyle changes, and can help you figure out a diabetes diet plan that’s right for you. Their programs are tailored to the needs of individual patients, and employ a multi-dimensional, physician-led approach to diabetic diet, exercise, and lifestyle modification. To find out more and locate your nearest Center for Medical Weight Loss, enter your zip code in the box at the right. Special introductory offers are available for first-time visitors at select locations.

  1. CNN Health, (February 28, 2013) Sitting Less May Reduce Diabetes Risk

  2. Diabetologia Journal,

  3. Dimension Engineering, Accelerometers,