Standing Might Not Counteract the Health Harms of Sitting for Runners

DOES YOUR DESK chair have fatal intentions? Even if you run regularly, mounting research suggests hours of uninterrupted sedentary time increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and an early death.

A new research review in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise brings a bit more bad news for runners and other active people. While standing up from time to time offsets the dangers of sitting in the general population, the fitter few might need to move around a bit more to see the same benefits.

Danish researchers compiled the results of 16 previous studies, all of which looked at how breaks in sitting time affected metabolic factors like blood glucose levels and the body’s response to insulin. Overall, for people who didn’t exercise or already had type 2 diabetes, light physical activity (including standing) produced immediate improvements. However, people who exercised regularly seemed to require more intense motion – such as walking or running – to achieve similar perks.

The results seem a bit unfair, but reflect basic physiology. If you don’t work out at all, merely assuming an upright position provides enough of a stimulus to change your body and your health. If you already move regularly, you need something more intense to trigger the same response, study author Mathias Ried-Larsen, Ph.D., M.Sc., of Copenhagen University Hospital told Newswire in an email.

Another point to consider: Much like medicine would help a sick person more than a healthy one, the largely sedentary have more to gain from standing breaks. “It doesn’t mean that active people can’t benefit from reduced sitting, it is just that their relative benefit might be less, since they are already at a lower overall risk profile,” says Peter T. Katzmarzyk, Ph.D., who studies sitting and health at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

Researchers need more studies to provide exact recommendations, Ried-Larsen says. In the meantime, there’s no reason not to move more during the 23 or so hours of the day you’re not running. Besides the potential metabolic benefits, active breaks could reduce injury risk by helping runners maintain their full range of movement and function, says Gary Ditsch, M.S., lead exercise physiologist for weight-loss company Retrofit.

If you have a desk job, consider setting “get up and go” alarms every couple of hours on your computer or phone. Instead of just standing, do some squats, lunges, calf stretches, and arm circles. Too awkward in cubeville? Find some stairs, walk a few flights to warm up, then do these moves on a landing, Ditsch advises. Or better yet, switch to a standing workstation so you spend less overall time on your rump.

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