MAY 17, 2022 10:00 AM PDT

Reducing sedentary time mitigates the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases

Sedentary literally means sitting or being physically inactive, and we often associate physical activity with exercise, but being just physically active can have some very positive short- and long-term health benefits. These include improved brain health, help manage weight to include reducing your risk for type 2 diabetes, reduce risk of disease, strengthen bones and muscles, and overall improve your ability to do everyday activities. On the other hand, being physically inactive can do quite the opposite. This includes a greater risk of developing high blood pressure, adding feelings of anxiety and depression, and may increase the risk of certain cancers. The bottom line is staying physically active can be very healthy while the opposite cannot.

A recent study in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport suggests that reducing daily sedentary time can have a positive effect on the risk factors of lifestyle diseases already in three months. Spending just one hour less sitting daily and increasing light physical activity can help in the prevention of these diseases.

Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are the most common chronic diseases globally. The risk of developing these diseases is increased particularly by overweight caused by physical inactivity and unhealthy diet, and metabolic disorders often associated with it.

In an intervention study of the Turku PET Centre and the UKK Institute in Finland, the researchers investigated whether health benefits can be achieved by reducing daily sedentary time during a three-month intervention period. The research participants were sedentary and physically inactive working-age adults with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

The researchers compared two groups: the intervention group was guided to reduce their sitting time by one-hour per day through increasing standing and light-intensity physical activity, and the control group was instructed to maintain their usual habits and sedentary lifestyle.

"What makes our research design unique is that sedentary time and physical activity of both groups were measured with accelerometers throughout the entire three-month period, whereas in earlier studies activity has typically been measured only for a few days at the beginning and end of the study period. This makes it possible to receive more information on the actual behavior changes over a longer time period," says Doctoral Candidate Taru Garthwaite from the University of Turku in Finland, and lead author of the study.                                     

The intervention group managed to reduce sedentary time by 50 minutes per day on average, mainly by increasing the amount of light- and moderate-intensity physical activity. In the three-month period, the researchers observed benefits in health outcomes related to blood sugar regulation, insulin sensitivity and liver health in the intervention group.

"It is an encouraging thought that health benefits can be achieved by reducing the time spent sitting and increasing the amount of even light-intensity physical activity. For many, this may be an easier starting point than increasing actual exercise," says Garthwaite.

The next step for the researchers is to study how changes in daily activity and sedentary time affect energy metabolism and body composition in addition to the risk factors of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases during a six-month study period.

As stated, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are the most common chronic diseases globally. More than 37 million Americans have diabetes, and approximately 90-95% of them have type 2 diabetes. Cardiovascular diseases involve your heart, and these include abnormal heart rhythms, congenital heart disease, heart attacks, heart failures, and strokes.

What else can we learn about how physical activity can improve our health? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!

As always, keep doing science & keep stay healthy!

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1), Johns Hopkins Medicine, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2), WebMD

MS in Geological Sciences
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
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