People at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes can reduce the risk by sitting less and moving around more frequently, rather than exercising regularly.

The finding came from a study at the University of Leicester which indicates that decreasing sitting time by 90 minutes in total each day may result in critical health advantages.

Patients at risk for type 2 diabetes are currently told to do moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) every week for at least 150 minutes.

However, the new research, published in Diabetologia demonstrates that individuals should actually be told to decrease their sedentary time. This means that they need to reduce the time they spend moving very little or not all, such as when they are lying down or sitting.

The investigation was led by Joseph Henson and a team from the Diabetes Research Unit, University of Leicester and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester Loughborough Diet, Lifestyle and Physical Activity Biomedical Research Unit (BRU), UK.

The researchers examined patients from 2 reports:

  • 153 from project STAND (Sedentary Time and Diabetes study, 29% men, 33 years old on average)
  • the Walking Away from Diabetes study (65% men, 64 years old on average)

The degree to which MVPA, total physical activity, sedentary time, and breaks in sedentary time were independently linked to cardiometabolic risk factors were observed in people with recognized risk factors for diabetes type 2.

In order to evaluate MVPA, total physical activity and sedentary time, the experts used accelerometers. Breaks in sedentary time were considered a change from a sedentary to an active state.

According to the results, patients with known risk factors for type 2 diabetes recruited from primary care, sedentary time was harmfully linked to 2 h glucose, HDL-cholesterol, and triacylglycerol, independent of confounders that were evaluated.

After controlling for MVPA and adiposity, the results were still significant.

The results were constant across different age groups, demonstrating that the adverse outcomes of surplus sedentary time prevail among young and old adults.

Henson explained:

“These studies provide preliminary evidence that sedentary behavior may be a more effective way to target the prevention of type 2 diabetes, rather than just solely focusing on MVPA. Moreover, sedentary time occupies large portions of the day, unlike MVPA.”

The authors added that sedentary time had a more powerful link to many critical cardiometabolic markers, such as HDL-cholesterol, triacylglycerol, and 2 h glucose, as opposed to total physical activity and MVPA, after controlling for each other and other crucial hidden variables.

The novel findings raise concerns about the potential prescription of optimal daily movement for well-being.

Henson concluded:

“Diabetes and cardiovascular prevention programs concentrating solely on MVPA may overlook an area that is of fundamental importance to cardiometabolic health. Along with messages related to accumulating at least 150 min/week of MVPA, which form the cornerstone of diabetes prevention programs, such interventions may be more effective still if individuals are further encouraged to simply sit less and move more, regardless of the intensity level.

This approach requires a paradigm shift, so that individuals at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes think about the balance of sedentary behavior and physical activity throughout the day.”

The results coincide with a different study also published this week which showed that sitting for long hours is linked to an elevated risk of developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

Written by Sarah Glynn