By now, we’ve all heard the plethora of health risks attached to a sedentary lifestyle, but a new study is discovering the health benefits of a plausible alternative: integrating standing, and walking more into your day. Researchers from the European Society of Cardiology have found that standing, as opposed to sitting, improves your blood sugar, decreases fats in the blood and improves cholesterol levels, all while slimming down your waistline. The study which was published in the European Heart Journal also found that replacing time walking instead of sitting was unsurprisingly even better for your overall body mass index (BMI).

Even though the general consensus states that sitting constantly is not good for your health, many are confused what the exact health repercussions are of a sedentary lifestyle, and how we can possibly combat the effects of a desk job. For this study, though, Australian researchers looked into how the simple alternatives of standing, and occasionally walking, integrated into the day can potentially improve your health. Giving activity monitors to 782 men and women between the ages of 36 and 80 years old who had agreed to participate in the Australian Diabetes, Obesity, and Lifestyle Study, researchers were able to measure how long participants spent sitting, sleeping, lying down, standing, walking and running with much accuracy. Blood pressure, height, weight, and waist circumference were measured before the study, and blood samples were provided. Researchers then monitored the participants’ activity for 24 hours each day, over a seven-day period. Using isotemporal analysis, the team was then able to estimate the health impacts of switching from sitting, to standing or stepping.

“We found that time spent standing rather than sitting was significantly associated with lower levels of blood sugar and blood fats,” says Dr. Genevieve Healy, of the School of Public Health at the University of Queensland, in a recent press release. “Replacing sitting time with stepping was also associated with a significant reduction in waistline and BMI. While the study cannot show that less time spent sitting causes the improvements in these markers of health, the associations it reveals are consistent with what is known already about the benefits of a non-sedentary lifestyle. More work is needed to understand cause and effect."

So far, the results are telling. Researchers found that two extra hours each day spent standing, as opposed to sitting, constituted 2 percent lower average fasting blood sugar levels, and 11 percent lower average fats within the blood. More standing time also meant more of the “good” type of cholesterol, HDL, in the blood (a 0.06 mmol/L higher average), while increasing the ratio of HDL to LDL, the “bad” type of cholesterol.

When sitting was replaced with two hours of stepping, the results were even more promising. Researchers discovered an 11 percent lower average in BMI, and a decrease in waist circumference by an average of 7.5cm, which was not observed when sitting was changed to standing. Blood sugar also fell by 11 percent, and fats in the blood fell by 14 percent. HDL, the “good” cholesterol, also increased even more than it did while standing (0.10 mmol/L on average).

“These findings provide important preliminary evidence that strategies to increase the amount of time spent standing or walking rather than sitting may benefit the heart and the metabolism of many people,” said Healy. “Get up for your heart health and move for your waistline.”

Dr. Healy also noted that this study can be translated to the workplace, where frequent sitting is often a problem, and even encouraged. “"This has important public health implications, given that standing is a common behaviour that usually replaces sitting, and that can be encouraged in the workplace with interventions such as sit-stand desks,” she says. “However, it is important to say that not all sitting is bad; but if people can incorporate alternatives to sitting wherever possible, it may benefit their heart and metabolic health. Our message is to 'Stand Up, Sit Less, Move More'."

Even though walking as opposed to sitting being better for your health has long been known as an almost no-brainer, Healy and her team’s study is the first to concretely establish what health changes occur when activity is coopted into the day. By examining changes to blood sugar, blood-fat levels, BMI, waist circumference and cholesterol levels, researchers were able to examine how token markers of health are effected by a shift toward activity. They do believe, however, more research needs to be done on a greater scale to fully assess what these effects mean over a longer period of time.

For now, though, Healy says the best way to reap the benefits of their study is to alternate between sitting, and standing. “We are also looking to increase the amount of time spent stepping as well,” she added.

According to Professor Fransisco Lopez-Jimenez of the Mayo Clinic and Mayo College of Medicine, this study provides crucial information to help us avoid sedentary patterns that the modern world has fallen into. He says, “the fight against sedentary behaviour cannot be won based only on the promotion of regular exercise,” which he notes, is still encouraged, but finds it is even more important to encourage a non-sedentary daily routine. "A person walking while at work for two hours, standing for another four hours, and performing some daily chores at home for another hour will burn more calories than jogging or running for 60 minutes,” he says.

Most importantly, Lopez-Jimenez notes, the signs of progress and modernity do not have to be equated with frequency of sitting, and inactivity, but rather should shift its focus toward an active, healthy lifestyle. “The unintended consequences of modern life promoting sedentary behaviours can be reversed,” he says. “Health care providers, policy makers and people in general need to stand up for this. Literally."

Source: Healy G, et al. The European Heart Journal. 2015.