Research from Kansas State University shows that people who spend less time sitting and more time physically active have a lower risk for chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, stroke, breast cancer, colon cancer and others.

Even just standing more and sitting less appears to make a difference to health and quality of life, say Sara Rosenkranz and Richard Rosenkranz, both assistant professors of human nutrition, who led the study.

Prof. Richard Rosenkranz says:

“Not only do people need to be more physically active by walking or doing moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, but they should also be looking at ways to reduce their sitting time.”

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Breaking up long periods of sitting, by exercising or simply standing, promotes better health and ‘successful aging.’
Image credit: Kansas State University

The researchers had already shown in earlier work that the more people sit, the greater their chances of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and premature death.

For their new study, reported in the journal BMC Public Health, the Rosenkranzes and colleagues wanted to take a positive approach and find out to what extent increasing physical activity might benefit health and quality of life.

To this end, they examined data on nearly 200,000 men and women aged between 45 and 106 who took part in a large Australian study of health and aging called the 45 and Up Study.

They describe what they found:

Physical activity and sitting time are independently associated with excellent health and quality of life in this large diverse sample of Australian middle-aged and older adults.”

They conclude that the findings “bolster evidence” that encourages people to increase physical activity and spend less time sitting, in pursuit of better health and “successful aging.”

The researchers say the key to improving health is to take a two-fold approach – sit less and move more.

Prof. Sara Rosenkranz says lots of people might exercise for, say, 30 to 60 minutes a day but then spend the rest of the time sitting.

She says people should move more – stand up and move around now and again to break up long periods of sitting.

Sitting for a long time means there is little muscular contraction going on. This shuts down a molecule called lipoprotein lipase, or LPL, that helps take in fat and use it for energy, she explains:

We’re basically telling our bodies to shut down the processes that help to stimulate metabolism throughout the day and that is not good. Just by breaking up your sedentary time, we can actually upregulate that process in the body.”

The Rosenkranzes suggest office workers who have to sit for long periods at work should try to adopt a sit-stand desk or workstation whose height can be adjusted easily to accomodate sitting or standing.

They say sit-stand desks are also available for children for doing their homework.

The team is now investigating how increased sitting time affects blood pressure, body composition, cholesterol and other factors.

In January 2013, an exercise scientist in the UK said office workers could lose weight by standing up at their desk instead of sitting. He worked out that standing at a desk for 3 hours a day burned an extra 144 calories – equivalent to shedding 8 pounds of human fat over a year.

Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Hemingway and Winston Churchill were notable standing desk enthusiasts, as is Donald Rumsfeld.