Insulin sensitivity – the ability of cells to respond to the hormone insulin – is a key predictor of health more generally. Insulin is essential to proper metabolism and the regulation of sugar in the body, and the body’s ability to respond to it effectively can be diminished by poor diet and lack of exercise, leading to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common lifestyle diseases in the world, and cardiovascular disease remains the world’s number one killer. In the US, one person dies every 40 seconds from cardiovascular disease.

Now researchers at a Finnish university have established that simply increasing the amount of time you spend standing each day can have a beneficial effect on insulin sensitivity, without the addition of extra exercise or making alterations to one’s diet. Thus far, there has been little research on the relationship between sedentary behaviour and insulin resistance.

Insulin sensitivity and standing

Insulin sensitivity

In the study, from the Turku PET Centre and UKK institute, the researchers investigated the relationship between insulin resistance on the one hand, and sedentary behaviour, physical activity and fitness on the other. The test subjects were inactive working-age adults with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

The study, published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, features the observation that standing is associated with better insulin sensitivity independently of the amount of daily physical activity or sitting time, fitness level, or body mass index (BMI).

“This association has not been shown before. These findings further encourage replacing a part of daily sitting time with standing, especially if physical activity recommendations are not met,” says one of the researchers, Taru Garthwaite.

The study also shows healthy body composition has a very important effect on metabolic health. Indeed, increased body fat percentage was a more important factor in terms of insulin sensitivity than physical activity, fitness, or the amount of time spent sitting.

Standing, on the other hand, was associated with insulin sensitivity independently, irrespective of body composition.

Fig. 1
Insulin sensitivity presented as a) M-value and b) HOMA-IR stratified by tertiles of accelerometer-measured standing time (h/day; means [SD]) in sedentary adults with metabolic syndrome (n = 64). HOMA-IR = homeostatic model assessment of insulin resistance. ** = p < 0.01, *** = p < 0.001.

“Regular exercise is well known to be beneficial for health. It seems that physical activity, fitness, and sedentary behaviour are also connected to insulin metabolism, but indirectly, through their effect on body composition,” Garthwaite adds.

Although the study cannot be used to show causal effects, the results suggest that simply increasing daily standing time may be a good way to prevent the onset of lifestyle diseases if physical activity recommendations cannot be met.

The researchers are now aiming to investigate how changes in daily activity and levels of sedentarism impact risk factors associated with cardiovascular and metabolic disease and metabolism. They’ll do this by comparing two groups in an intervention study of a longer duration.

“Our aim is to study if reducing daily sitting time by an hour has an impact on energy metabolism and fat accumulation in liver and the whole body, for example, in addition to insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation,” says Garthwaite.

One very simply way you can increase the amount of time you spend standing is to invest in a standing-desk attachment for work. You can also stand or sit in a deep squat when watching the television.

Insulin Sensitivity

Here at Herculean Strength, we’re committed to helping you improve your life, and that includes improving your insulin sensitivity.

Here is our full-blown guide on what insulin sensitivity is and why you should improve it.

And here’s a set of six easy things you can do to improve your insulin sensitivity.

We also regularly discuss studies on insulin sensitivity, such as this fascinating study which showed that even a short-term change to a paleo-style diet can improve a wide range of health markers, including insulin sensitivity.

Results from the paleo study, which clearly show the benefits of the change of diet

Whether or not you choose to follow the craze and adopt a paleo diet – and the historical evidence suggests that paleo diets could actually vary quite significantly over time and space – the general principle that we should try and live in a manner more like our ancestors did for the vast span of human history, seems very obviously to be a sound one. 

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