Standing More Often May Lower Chronic Disease Risk, Study Says

Woman standing while working

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Key Takeaways

  • Even if you are generally sedentary, standing may improve your blood sugar regulation, a recent study suggests.
  • Improved blood sugar regulation has a ripple effect in terms of health because improved insulin sensitivity helps lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • People with metabolic syndrome, a condition which increases diabetes risk, can see significant benefits by taking time to stand during the day.

Preventing type 2 diabetes—considered one of the most common lifestyle diseases worldwide—can take a combination of strategies to keep blood sugar regulated, including healthy foods and regular exercise. But a recent study in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport highlights one tactic that does not take much effort—stand up.

All participants in the study were at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. When participants in the study stood up, they showed better insulin sensitivity, a result that has not been shown before in this population, according to study co-author Taru Garthwaite, PhD(c), of the University of Turku in Finland.

“These findings should encourage people to replace part of their daily sitting time with standing more often,” she says. “That’s especially true if someone isn’t meeting physical activity recommendations.”

About the Study

Researchers looked at 64 sedentary men and women with metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions including high blood pressure and larger waist circumference, which tend to put people at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes as well as heart disease and stroke.

Their insulin sensitivity was measured while sitting, standing, and being physically active. This is important since insulin is a key hormone in energy metabolism and blood sugar regulation, and when sensitivity is impaired, it can lead to a state of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Participants saw improvements in whole-body insulin sensitivity when they stood up, likely because of the muscle use required for standing.

Although standing shows a surprising amount of benefits on its own, Dr. Garthwaite emphasizes that you get even more advantages from regular exercise. Surprisingly, those in the study who did moderate-to-vigorous exercise didn’t have immediate insulin sensitivity, but she says that can happen over time through changed body composition.

Taru Garthwaite, PhD

This means exercise provides a more indirect effect compared to standing, which has a more direct effect on insulin sensitivity.

— Taru Garthwaite, PhD

For example, losing weight can help metabolism, including blood sugar regulation, and exercise can play a significant role in that weight management, she notes.

“This means exercise provides a more indirect effect compared to standing, which has a more direct effect on insulin sensitivity,” says Dr. Garthwaite.

Previous research indicates that even if you already have diabetes, exercise can play a role in better condition management. A position statement by the American Diabetes Association notes that physical activity not only improves blood glucose control for those with type 2 diabetes but also reduces cardiovascular risk factors and improves an overall feeling of well-being.

This is true for a range of exercises, they add, including walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming. You will also benefit from strength training, tai chi, balance exercises, and yoga.

 Need for Prevention

Although the recent study focused on those with metabolic syndrome, the breadth of people who are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes is significant. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 3 people has pre-diabetes, which means they have blood sugar regulation concerns, and without lifestyle changes, they are likely to develop the chronic condition within five to 10 years of a pre-diabetes diagnosis.

Hien Tran, MD

Lifestyle changes that address your pre-diabetes are crucial for overall health.

— Hien Tran, MD

That includes standing more often, as the recent study noted, but also making changes in your diet based on a carbohydrate amount that is appropriate for you, says Hien Tran, MD, an endocrinologist with Texas Diabetes and Endocrinology.

“Once you have pre-diabetes, the chances of progressing to diabetes are quite high, and if you have other conditions, it can become a complex issue,” says Tran. “[Pre-diabetes] can raise your risk of heart disease, strokes, and kidney disease. Lifestyle changes that address your pre-diabetes are crucial for overall health.”

Dr. Tran says she also recommends her patients see a dietitian to make sure there is a good baseline knowledge of foods that will not increase blood sugars.

“These foods may be healthy, like fruit, but may need to be modified depending on your situation," she says.

Staying as active as possible is also key, she adds. Even non-structured exercise like yard work or going for a walk can have notable effects and may help delay or even eliminate the need for medications, says Tran.

What This Means For You

If you are at risk for type 2 diabetes, standing up more often could have significant benefits in helping you regulate blood sugar. Even if you already have metabolic syndrome, you can benefit from standing throughout the day. If you have pre-diabetes, talk to a healthcare provider about how you can prevent this condition from progressing to type 2 diabetes.

5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Garthwaite T, Sjöros T, Koivumäki M, et al. Standing is associated with insulin sensitivity in adults with metabolic syndromeJ Sci Med Sport. 2021:S1440244021002048. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2021.08.009

  2. American Heart Association. Metabolic syndrome.

  3. Colberg SR, Sigal RJ, Yardley JE, et al. Physical activity/exercise and diabetes: a position statement of the American Diabetes AssociationDia Care. 2016;39(11):2065-2079. doi:10.2337/dc16-1728

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pre-diabetes - your chance to prevent type 2 diabetes.

  5. Cleveland Clinic. Prediabetes.

By Elizabeth Millard, CPT, RYT
Elizabeth Millard is a freelance journalist specializing in health, wellness, fitness, and nutrition.