Older women at risk for type 2 diabetes may want to break up prolonged periods of sitting by standing or going for short walks, suggests a new study from the UK.
Researchers found standing up or walking every so often improved blood sugar, or glucose, levels among postmenopausal women at risk for diabetes, compared to those who sat for 7.5 hours.
"We were really interested in seeing whether breaking up that sitting time with standing or walking had a role in breaking up glucose levels throughout the day," said lead author Joseph Henson, of the University of Leicester.
The study involved 22 overweight postmenopausal women at risk for diabetes, and three possible daily routines. The women were randomly assigned to follow two of the routines on separate days, at least a week apart. Either they would sit for 7.5 hours, or they would break up the time by standing up for five minutes every half hour, or they'd walk for five minutes every half hour.
The women ate a standardized breakfast and lunch, and the researchers then took blood samples throughout the day.
"After eating, there is a big spike in glucose levels," said Henson. "In those with impaired glucose regulation, they’re not able to bring them back down to normal levels that quickly."
Compared to those who sat for the entire 7.5 hours, those who stood every half hour had a 34 percent smaller increase in glucose levels after eating. Similarly, spikes in glucose were reduced by 28 percent among those who walked every half hour, according to the results in Diabetes Care.
Increased concentrations of naturally-produced insulin, which is a sign of diabetes, were also smaller among women who stood or walked every half hour, researchers found.
"There was no difference between standing or walking," Henson told Reuters Health. "It showed that it didn’t matter what you do as long as you get out of the chair."
"It was simply standing still and the walking was only really light," he said. "They picked the walking speed. It was barely breaking sweat."
Regardless of the regimen the women followed on the test day, the researchers had them come back to the lab the next day to sit for 7.5 hours without any activity.
"The results persisted into the next day," Henson said.
He added that more research is needed on why just getting out of a chair improved glucose and insulin levels, but it may be that muscle activity sends a message to the body to start using glucose for energy.
Henson also said that other studies too have shown benefits from breaking up prolonged periods of sitting still.
In March, researchers found those who incorporated some activity into their routines every 30 minutes saw their weight and waist circumference shrink.
"There has been some research in the general population showing similar results when they break it up with walking and jogging," Henson said.
He added that future research may want to look at glucose and insulin levels among those with type 2 diabetes. Also, he said, research should look at whether these results apply to men, or are unique to women.