Advising patients to spend more time spent standing rather than sitting could improve levels of blood glucose, fat and cholesterol, according to an Australian study.
It also found that going further and replacing time spent sitting with walking could have additional benefits for reducing waistline and body mass index.
“This has important public health implications, given that standing is a common behaviour that usually replaces sitting”
The study, published today in the European Heart Journal, is one of the first to look at the estimated associations between replacing time in one activity with another and its effect on modifying cardiovascular risk factors.
Researchers gave activity monitors to 782 men and women, aged 36-80, who were taking part in the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study.
The monitors determined how long each participant spent sleeping, sitting or lying down, standing and stepping. Each wore a monitor on their thigh for 24-hours a day over a seven-day period.
The study showed that an extra two hours per day spent standing, rather than sitting, was linked with approximately 2% lower average fasting blood sugar levels and 11% lower average triglycerides.
Extra standing time was also associated with 0.06 mmol/L higher average levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and a 6% lower average total/HDL cholesterol ratio, indicating an improvement in the total amount of HDL cholesterol in relation to “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Replacing two hours a day of sitting time with stepping was associated with an approximately 11% lower average BMI and a 7.5cm smaller average waist circumference, the researchers found.
“A common sense rule of thumb is to get up for five minutes every half an hour”
In addition, average blood sugar levels fell by approximately 11% and average triglycerides by 14% for every two hours spent walking rather than sitting, while HDL cholesterol was 0.10 mmol/L higher.
There was, however, no significant effect on BMI or waistline of replacing sitting time with standing.
Lead study author Dr Genevieve Healy, a senior research fellow at the University of Queensland, said: “While the study cannot show that less time spent sitting causes the improvements in these markers of health, the associations it reveals are consistent with what is known already about the benefits of a non-sedentary lifestyle.
“These findings provide important preliminary evidence that strategies to increase the amount of time spent standing or walking rather than sitting may benefit the heart and metabolism of many people,” she said.
She added: “This has important public health implications, given that standing is a common behaviour that usually replaces sitting, and that can be encouraged in the workplace with interventions such as sit-stand desks.”
Julie Ward, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We know that people who spend long periods of time sitting down have been found to have higher rates of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
“National guidelines state we should reduce the time we spend sitting and this study adds to the increasing amount of evidence to support this,” she said. “A common sense rule of thumb is to get up for five minutes every half an hour.”