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Sitting for long periods increases risk of Type 2 diabetes

Sitting for long periods of time can increase your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and death, a new study has found.

The study, which analysed the results of 18 studies and included a total of 794,577 participants, is published in the journalDiabetologia. The researchers are the first to analyse the association between all sedentary behaviour and long-term health, rather than focusing on time spent watching television.

According to the study, those who sit for long periods of time on a daily basis double their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, even if they take regular exercise.

Diabetes risk from sitting

Substituting sedentary behaviour with standing or light-intensity physical activity (in addition to undertaking regular exercise) may reduce the risk of chronic disease and death. Suggested ways to counteract long sitting periods include taking regular breaks, having standing meetings, walking during your lunch break and reducing your TV viewing time by taking part in less-sedentary activities in the evening.

Sitting slows down metabolism

Sitting down for long periods can result in changes in the body's metabolism, including insulin resistance, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes. The researchers suggest that reducing time spent sitting or lying down may have a significant role in preventing the condition developing.

The study was led by Dr. Emma Wilmot, a research fellow in the Diabetes Research Group at the University of Leicester, in association with colleagues at Loughborough University. They propose that future diabetes prevention programmes should consider promoting reduced sedentary behaviour alongside more traditional lifestyle behaviours such as increased physical activity and healthy diet changes.

People still need to exercise, but spending less time sitting on a daily basis is also important in improving overall health. For example, the researchers analysed results from a study that suggested breaking up sitting time with two-minute walk breaks every 20 minutes and found that it helped maintain glucose control and insulin response.

"Replace some sitting time with standing or walking"

Dr Matthew Hobbs, Head of Research at Diabetes UK, said, "The overarching message is that spending a lot of time sitting or lying down can be bad for overall health and considerably increases your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

"The suggestion that even those people who are physically active but also sit down for long periods have an increased risk of Type 2 diabetes is interesting. However, not all of the studies in this review looked at this factor, so the evidence is not strong and certainly shouldn’t be used to discourage people from doing physical exercise.

"What is clear is that anyone who spends lots of time sitting or lying down would benefit from replacing some of that time by standing or walking. Aside from any direct effect reducing the amount of time you spend sitting down may have, getting more physical activity is a great way of helping maintain a healthy weight, which is the best way of minimising your risk of Type 2 diabetes."

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