Boosting health and wellness can be as easy as sitting less and standing more! Numerous studies prove that taking short breaks throughout the day to stand (or move around a bit) improves health and wellness in previously unimagined ways. Standing and/or engaging in frequent light activity (like walking around your office, standing while talking on the phone, or even just doing chores) improves mood and energy, sharpens mental focus, controls appetite, and dramatically improves blood sugar control. In fact, standing or moving for five minutes every hour may be just as important as a weekly exercise routine for reducing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

Research Links Standing with Better Mood, Concentration, and Appetite Control

Anyone with a desk job knows that prolonged sitting leads to stiff and painful hips and knees!  However, sitting too much also reduces your ability to concentrate, and can increase mental stress. A study at the University of Colorado found that people who took frequent 5-10 minute standing or walking breaks during a six-hour workday enjoyed improved feelings of alertness and wellbeing, lower stress levels, and even reduced appetite compared to those who sat at their desks for most of the day. Remarkably, for most participants in the study, those regular breaks produced better results than starting the day with a brisk, 30-minute walk.

Sitting also contributes to boredom and fatigue, which commonly triggers a search for snacks! Researchers theorize that low energy states, like boredom, trigger your brain to tell you to do something to improve your mood. Eating, even if you are not hungry, does help improve energy and concentration for a short period of time. However, simple, light activity produces the same results, with no added calories!

Sitting Less Improves Blood Sugar, Blood Pressure and Risk of Chronic Disease

One of the largest studies to examine the links between sitting and health is the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study. Researchers followed more than 11,000 adults without diabetes and compared the time people spent each day watching television with a number of health markers. As might be expected, glucose and insulin levels, blood pressure, and waist measurements increased with every extra hour people spent watching TV. Researchers were surprised, however, when they discovered that regular, moderate exercise (at least 150 minutes a week) did not improve the health of anyone who spent more than a few hours each day watching television. In other words, thirty minutes or more of concentrated exercise most days of the week did not ameliorate the negative health effects of sitting too much.

Other studies show that taking a walk, or simply standing after meals (even just to do the dishes), can significantly lower post-meal blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. In addition, and perhaps most intriguingly, long-term studies also find a decreased risk of death from any cause (including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer), in people who simply sit less during the day and move more.

Standing Burns More Fat and Calories!

How does standing more and sitting less improve health? Scientists aren’t exactly sure, but it might have something to do with our ability to use fat as fuel. Muscles that are important for postural support (standing) are quite good at siphoning off fat that is circulating in the bloodstream (as triglycerides and cholesterol), and using it for energy. When we sit too much, those muscles lose some of their ability to use circulating fat for fuel. This could contribute to some of the symptoms of pre-diabetes and metabolic syndrome, including high triglycerides, increased waist circumference and insulin resistance.

When we stand or engage in light activity, we also burn more calories. In fact, most people can burn 500-800 additional calories by standing at work; engaging in ‘walking meetings’; taking regular movement breaks; and just not sitting more than a total of six hours a day! Burning more calories helps us achieve a healthier weight, which lowers the risk for many chronic diseases.

Tools to Create New Habits

Once you get into the habit, it’s easy to cut back on daily chair time. Numerous online tools are available to remind you to take a break from sitting. Check out Apple’s Stand Up – The Work Break Timer or Google Chrome’s Office Fit for just a few useful apps you can use at work or home. There are also many options out there for converting your work area into a sit/stand/or walk environment. Encourage walking meetings at work, and stand up while working whenever possible. Even walking to talk to someone in your office instead of calling or sending an email will get you out of your chair more often. If you are into playing video games at home, try some of the active options on the Nintendo Wii. Get off the couch during television ads to do chores or walk in place for a while. Even better, watch a lot less TV! Just sit less and stand more. You’ll feel better when you do!