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Standing up for better heart health
- By Nancy Ferrari, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Publishing
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 Publishing.
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.
About the Author
Nancy Ferrari, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Publishing
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.
No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
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