Published on 8 February 2016

Every hour spent sitting down each day could add up to increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to researchers in the Netherlands.

Scientists from Maastricht University measured the length of time people spent between sitting for long periods and physical activity and found that each additional hour of being inactive (sedentary) could increase the chances of a person developing type 2 diabetes by 22% - more than a fifth.

The study measured the activity of almost 2,500 middle-aged or older people (aged 45 to 70) and the time they spent sitting or lying down over the course of a week, using an accelerometer. The speed of their movement was also recorded. In addition, researchers tested people’s glucose (sugar) tolerance (a measure for diabetes) and other health factors, including cholesterol, blood pressure and weight.

Every hour sitting down can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes

They found that people who had type 2 diabetes spent on average 26 minutes longer sitting or lying down, compared to those without the condition.

The results of the study were recently published in Diabetologia and showed that people with normal blood sugar levels spent on average 9.28 hours a day sedentary, compared to 9.38 hours for people with impaired glucose tolerance and 9.71 hours for people with type 2 diabetes. Therefore, the results recorded that people with type 2 diabetes spent on average 26 minutes longer each day being inactive.

The researchers concluded: “This was the largest study that objectively measured total amount and patterns of sedentary behaviour in a sample of adults with type 2 diabetes. The results showed that an extra hour of sedentary time was associated with increased odds of 22% for type 2 diabetes and of 39% for the metabolic syndrome, independent of high-intensity physical activity.

“Future studies in participants with type 2 diabetes should be conducted to confirm our results, and to explore dose-response relationships and causality. Nevertheless, our findings could have important implications for public health as they suggest that sedentary behaviour may play a significant role in the development and prevention of type 2 diabetes, independent of high-intensity physical activity. Consideration should be given to including strategies to reduce the amount of sedentary time in diabetes prevention programmes.”

An NHS Behind the Headlines analysis of the study said: “This study adds to existing evidence which suggests the amount of time we spend physically inactive, either sitting or lying down, could have a poor effect on our health. It does not, however, prove that sitting for long periods causes diabetes.

“Although the researchers adjusted their figures to take account of many confounding factors, they did not look at some other lifestyle aspects that could be important in developing diabetes, such as what people ate and family history of diabetes.

“Study results aside, we already know that exercise and physical activity are good for cardiovascular health, so it’s not surprising that spending much of your day sitting down is likely to be a bad thing.

“It can be hard to keep active if you have a job that requires you to spend a lot of time sitting down, such as being a taxi driver or working on a computer. This study gives one more potential reason to make sure you spend as much time as possible being physically active, whether that’s going to the gym, taking a walk, using the stairs instead of the lift, or just dancing around the kitchen while making dinner.”

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