Harvard Women's Health Watch

Getting out of the chair boosts metabolism in postmenopausal women

There's mounting evidence that sitting for long periods can have health risks. However, little is known about how the effects of sitting can be countered by standing occasionally. A team of researchers from the United Kingdom and Australia designed a two-day study involving 22 overweight or obese postmenopausal women with high blood sugar who were at risk for diabetes. On the first day, the women were assigned to one of three groups. One group sat for 7.5 hours straight. The other two sat over a 7.5-hour period, but one group was told to stand in place for five minutes every half-hour, and the other was told to walk for five minutes every half-hour. The second day, all the groups sat for 7.5 hours straight.

On both days, the researchers tested each participant's blood levels of glucose, insulin, fatty acids, and triglycerides—all indicators of metabolism. They found that both walking and standing reduced glucose, insulin, and fatty acids—signs of a higher metabolic rate—in women who either stood or walked compared with those who sat the entire time. Moreover, in the two active groups, some of the beneficial effects persisted into the next day, when everyone sat for the entire session.

The 7.5-hour time period roughly corresponds to the average workday. Taking regular breaks to stand or walk is a simple approach that could be easily incorporated into the workday and may provide a metabolic boost. The article appeared in the January 2016 issue of Diabetes Care.

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