10/19/2012 12:03 pm ET Updated Dec 19, 2012

Stand for Something: The Perils of Sitting and What You Can Do


The next time someone offers you a seat, think twice before accepting.

In "Sitting Ducks," I discussed the negative effects of prolonged sitting and the inability of exercise to undo the damage. A new study in the November 2012 issue of Diabetologia now quantifies the association between sedentary behavior and diabetes.

The research is a game-changer. The question is no longer simply, "How much exercise do I need?" but rather "How do I reduce my sitting time?"

Dr. Emma G. Wilmot of the University of Leicester picks up a theme first highlighted by
the pioneering work in the early 1950s by a British researcher, Dr. Jeremy Morris. Morris was the first to connect physical exertion and health. In seeking to determine whether there was an association between the type of work people do and heart disease, he stumbled upon groundbreaking data. Morris combed through the health records of 31,000 bus drivers and conductors in London. The conductors had significantly less heart disease than the drivers. The only variable that consistently distinguished one group from the other was activity level.

Only recently has this work generated new research. Wilmot's group reviewed studies that documented sedentary time and health outcomes. Gathering data from 18 studies with a total of 794,577 subjects, they documented the increased health risk associated with increasing sedentary time. When comparing the greatest sedentary time group with the lowest, a doubling of the risk for diabetes, an approximate two-and-a-half-fold increase in the risk of cardiovascular events, a 90 percent rise in risk of cardiovascular death, and a 49 percent higher risk of death by any cause.

While all these findings were statistically significant, the predictive effects were significant only for diabetes. Wilmot suggested that the consequences of sedentary behavior were particularly powerful with diabetes because sitting has an immediate effect on glucose metabolism. People who sit after a meal have a 24 percent higher glucose level than people who take a walk after eating. This would suggest that when you don't use your muscles (sitting) insulin sensitivity decreases, even if temporarily.

  • So what can you do?
  • Take all your calls standing up.
  • Take a walk after every meal, no matter how short.
  • Set a timer on your desk and take a stroll to the water cooler or around your floor, every 15 minutes.
  • When watching TV, get up during the advertisements.
  • If possible, set up a standing pedestal desk in your office.

Don't just sit there. Take a stand. It could save your life.


Wimot EG, Edwardson CL, Achana FA, et al. "Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: Systematic review and meta-analysis." Diabetologia 2012; 55:2895-2905.

For more by Paul Spector, M.D., click here.

For more healthy living health news, click here.