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Stand up, sit less and move more, researchers say; here's how to do it

A recent study finds that standing -- even without moving around -- can have health benefits

Carina Storrs | 8/11/2015, noon
You might want to stand up for this. A growing amount of research suggests that just standing -- even if ...
While a healthy lifestyle can certainly help you get the body you always wanted, the benefits extend well beyond your appearance, say experts. Statepoint

— You might want to stand up for this. A growing amount of research suggests that just standing -- even if you don't walk around -- can have health benefits.

A recent study in Australia found that participants who spent time more standing and moving in the course of a week, based on a sensitive monitor adhered to their thigh, had lower levels of blood sugar and cholesterol. The benefits were even greater, and including reductions in body-mass index and waist circumference, among those who took more steps during the day.

The researchers of the study boiled down their findings to the simple message: "Stand up, sit less, move more." The study was published last week in the European Heart Journal.

Although the research has been pretty clear that there are health benefits to not sitting, we are just starting to understand that standing alone may be a good alternative, said Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, director of preventive cardiology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Lopez-Jimenez wrote an editorial that accompanied the study in the European Heart Journal.

"The reason [standing could be good] is because when we stand there are many muscles in our legs and butt and abdomen that are working to keep you standing," he said. "Whenever muscle is used, it consumes sugar and affects triglycerides," which could, in turn, lower cholesterol, Lopez-Jimenez said. Standing regularly could translate into lower diabetes and heart disease risk, he added.

Not just exercise

The current U.S. guidelines for physical activity focus on formal exercise, rather than just moving, and recommend at least 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise such as jogging or biking. However, research suggests that even people who exercise face increased risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes if they are otherwise sedentary.

Lopez-Jimenez thinks the lack of guidelines on sedentary behavior are "a problem because we have to start shifting the attention and consider more the idea of avoiding sitting." We need recommendations about many hours to avoid sitting, just like we have for the number of hours we should sleep, he added.

However it is hard to say exactly how to break up our nonsitting time between standing, walking and other activities because we don't know enough about their different health benefits, Lopez-Jimenez said.

In Australia, there are already specific recommendations about how much you should stand and how to do it. It is the first country to have such guidelines, Lopez-Jimenez said. In Colombia, government computers have software that pause the machines, forcing employees to take a break.

For now, Lopez-Jimenez advises his patients to engineer their lives to be less sedentary such as using a standing desk at work and taking the stairs whenever possible.

If we can manage to build more movement into our everyday activities, it might even be possible to skip the gym, although research is needed to address this possibility, Lopez-Jimenez. "If you barely sit during the day, do you really have to exercise to be healthy?" he said.

Timing is everything