Getting up and moving around throughout the day may reduce your risk for diabetes. Learn how to incorporate more movement in your day to help reduce the amount of time you are sitting still.
Americans spend a lot of time sitting down. Whether it is in the car for the morning commute, at a desk for work, or on a couch to binge watch the latest TV series – we sit.
How much do we sit? According to one study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, Americans spend an average of 7.7 hours each day in sedentary behaviors, which include sitting, reclining, or lying down. Most people spend more than half their waking hours sitting down!
Cell phones, computers, telephones, and cars all encourage us to conduct most of our affairs while seated. Many of us do not need to move our bodies to get to work, to perform our jobs, or to stay connected with friends and relatives. We don’t need to, but for the sake of our health, we should.
What’s so bad about sitting?
How much time you spend sitting down directly affects your overall health. You have probably heard a lot about the benefits of daily exercise, but your daily non-exercise behavior is just as important. Long periods of sitting are linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes as well as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and depression.
Sitting increases your risk of type 2 diabetes because it affects the way your body uses insulin.
Note: Insulin opens most of your cells to allow glucose, a type of sugar, to enter. Insulin allows glucose to move out of your blood and into your cells, reducing the amount of glucose in your blood. Cells with reduced insulin sensitivity, or insulin resistance, do not respond as well to insulin, meaning that more insulin is needed and glucose stays in your blood longer.
Any time you move, your skeletal muscles contract, and muscle contractions improve insulin sensitivity. Muscle contractions enhance glucose transport into muscle cells, increase vascularization (blood vessel production) to your muscles, and increase muscle mass. These processes help your cells respond to insulin and lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
You can experience these benefits even without actively exercising. Researchers tracked the physical activity and insulin sensitivity of about 800 volunteers. They found that accumulated daily activity, such as completing household tasks and moving around at work, was the most important factor for determining insulin sensitivity. When you spend too much time sitting, you lose the opportunity to contract your muscles and improve insulin sensitivity.
How to reduce the amount of time you sit
Make movement a part of your day and you won’t have to think about how to get out of your chair and onto your feet. Remember, if you are in the habit of sitting for long periods of time, you may have to make a conscious effort to stand up and move around until moving frequently becomes your new habit.
Moving more at home
Curling up on the couch with a good book is a great way to relax, and there can certainly be a place for that in your life. But too much time on the couch puts your health at risk. When you are home all day, you need to find ways to incorporate movement into your routine. April Semon, Public Health Nutritionist with the New York State Department of Health, says, “Making small lifestyle changes, such as walking daily or taking the stairs, may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.”
Here are some ways you can get moving while at home. These recommendations may not work for everyone. Remember that the most important thing is simply to get up and moving regularly throughout the day – whatever that may look like for you and your family:
Go for a walk: If you have a dog, make a point of walking your dog a few times each day. Even if you don’t have a dog, schedule two or three short walks daily. You don’t need to power walk or break a sweat to reap the benefits – you just need to move.
Clean your house: New tools like robot vacuum cleaners make life easier, but they also take away a chance for you to move. Keep it old-school by sweeping and vacuuming by hand or scrubbing your bathtub. It’s good for you and your house!
Cut back on screen time: Reducing your screen time will benefit you in many ways, including reducing how sedentary you are. We’ve all sat down to check our email or social media for “just a minute,” only to look up an hour later and realize how much time has passed. Schedule specific blocks of time for email, online banking, and even social media, but stick to your schedule and stay off your phone or computer the rest of the day.
Walk while you watch: If you have a certain TV show that you never miss or a miniseries you want to finish, watch it while you walk on the treadmill. Do this enough and it will easily become a habit.
Moving more at work
You may find it easier to change your habits at home where you have more control over your environment, but most of us spend a lot of time at work. Especially for those who work office jobs, or jobs where you are sitting for long periods of time, finding time to move around is key. Several researchers are investigating ways to encourage more movement at work.
Research on the impact of treadmill desks, which allow users to slowly walk while working, showed they helped workers significantly reduce how much time they spent sitting each day. These workers also increased their total energy expenditure and metabolic rate.
An Australian study shows that a multifaceted strategy incorporating height-adjustable workstations, which allow people to switch between sitting and standing, combined with public health education, organization-level support, and individual health coaching helped workers reduce their sitting time by an average of 45 minutes per day.
Similarly, British researchers implemented a multifaceted strategy using height-adjustable workstations, an educational seminar, information about planning and goal setting, feedback on sitting and standing, a prompting tool, and regular coaching sessions. These strategies helped participants reduce their daily sitting time by an average of 83 minutes per day.
Researchers in the United Kingdom are studying how height-adjustable workstations might encourage workers to get on their feet during the day, even without additional interventions.
If you work from home and have the resources, consider investing in an adjustable workstation or treadmill desk. If you spend more of your time in an office setting, talk to your employer about purchasing one of these setups for your team. After all, healthy workers are better workers.
Even if you must sit at work or can’t purchase special equipment, you can find ways to break up your sedentary behaviors. Make it a habit to take phone calls while standing. When you need to speak with a coworker, walk to them instead of calling them on the phone. Take regular water breaks that force you to walk to the cooler. Implementing short bursts of activity throughout your day can actually have a significant impact on your health.
Technology can help, too. Apple watches come programmed with a “Time to Stand” reminder that prompts users to stand every 50 minutes, with the goal of standing and moving about for one minute each hour, 12 hours a day. Fitbit devices remind users to walk at least 250 steps each hour from 9 AM to 6 PM. Other smartwatches come equipped with similar prompts.
These activity prompts differ from other tracking features that smart watches provide. While walking a specific number of steps each day or working out for a set time is great, meeting those goals does not boost your baseline of movement separate from exercise. You might run for an hour each morning but then spend 8 hours sitting at a desk. These hourly prompts keep you moving at a low level all day and prevent you from sitting still for hours on end.
Even if you don’t have a smartwatch, there are numerous smartphone apps that have the exact same movement prompts. Try out several different apps and find one that works for you and your lifestyle.
With a little planning and effort, you can reduce the amount of time you spend sitting. By changing your habits at home and at work, you can boost your activity throughout the day and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes. To learn more read these helpful articles:
Take a Walk: Help Your Diabetes and Your Heart
Which Type of Exercise Is Best for Managing Diabetes, Aerobic Exercise or Weightlifting?
The Most Underrated Diabetes Exercise Strategy?