Standing up for better heart health

Nancy Ferrari
Nancy Ferrari, Senior editor, Harvard Health

Literally.

Spending less time sitting and more time standing lowers blood sugar, cholesterol, and weight — all of which translates into a lower risk for heart disease. So says a study of Australian adults published in the July 30 issue of the European Heart Journal.

As part of the Australian Diabetes, Obesity, and Lifestyle Study, researchers monitored the activity levels of roughly 700 adults to determine how much time these volunteers spent sitting, standing, walking slowly, and walking at a moderate to vigorous pace. Results confirmed that sitting worsens risk factors for heart disease.

Every two hours a day spent sitting was associated with an increase in weight and waist size, as well as in levels of blood sugar and cholesterol. As you might expect, time spent walking rather than sitting not only lowered cholesterol and blood sugar levels, but also reduced waist size and weight. Perhaps more surprisingly, simply substituting two hours of standing for sitting also improved blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Many studies suggest that the more we sit, the more we’re likely to develop heart disease and other illnesses, including diabetes and cancer. And, whether it’s sitting at the computer to get some work done or on the couch watching TV, too many hours spent on our bottoms increases the risk of dying from any cause — even among people who exercise regularly. Why? When your body is still for too long, you stop using blood sugar efficiently. You lose muscle, mobility, and flexibility. Over the long term, you may gain weight or develop depression.

“Regular exercise is an excellent way to prevent cardiovascular disease and improve overall health. One of the biggest perceived barriers to increasing physical activity is time. We always tell people that a little exercise is better than none, and this study reminds us that simple, doable approaches make a difference,” says Dr. Gregory Curfman, a cardiologist and editor in chief of Harvard Health Publications.

Even if your job or your lifestyle doesn’t keep you on your feet, most of us can find ways to stand more. For example, try standing when you are

  • waiting for the bus or train
  • folding clothes or sorting the mail
  • watching TV
  • preparing a meal
  • talking on the phone.

You can even build standing into your day at the office. See if colleagues will agree to a true “standing meeting.” Get up and walk to your coworker’s office rather than relying heavily on email. And instead of making yourself comfortable in that extra chair, stand while you talk.

You might also ask your employer about purchasing a standing desk. If that option is too expensive, rig one up on your own. You can find good, inexpensive ideas on the Internet. “Decreasing time sitting while at work is a simple, manageable adjustment may add important health benefits,” says Dr. Curfman.

Related Information: Starting to Exercise

Comments:

  1. Donna

    I suppose there is a trade-off between losing weight and getting varicose veins in your legs. Persons who stand for long periods also experience lower back pain. Maybe we should alternate 2 hours of sitting with periods of standing?

  2. Balaram

    This article is very amazing, I was very impressed at all. I hope you keep on posting that is always beneficial. Thank you very much.

  3. StoryMirror.com

    this very good article….. I trying to follow standing and walking in office.

  4. Rosie

    This is really fascinating! I wish I could follow the advice.

    Unfortunately, my main heart issue is hypotension, which rather rules out the possibility of standing without fainting!

    And yes, hypotension increases your risk of heart disease, too according to this study [Eur Heart J. 2010, 31(23), 2897]. So maybe too much standing for those of us with low blood pressure is no good thing! The strain on my heart after sustained standing can be painful!

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    Of course regular exercise is a good way to prevent from several health problems including cardiovascular disease.

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  8. Amelia Roster

    This study of Australian adults for the betterment of health is so helpful. The points elaborating the advantages of standing work as the eye-opener for many who spend most time of the day standing. Thanks for sharing this post.

  9. BestStandingDesks.com

    What got me first interested in getting a standing desk was when I noticed the clarity of mind I’d experience while walking on the treadmill at the gym. Ideas and solutions for life and work problems seemed to come to me. As you mentioned, I think having a standing desk at the office is a fantastic idea, where the cognitive boost is most needed — and for a longer duration than I care to spend at the gym or walking in circles.

    I’m a huge standing/walking desk advocate now, I review them and write about the best ones!

    -Patrick

  10. Alicia

    Nice information ! Thanks for sharing the news.