Many people spend much of their day sitting, which can cause a range of health problems and worsen certain health conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes. Research shows that sitting too much can cause problems with blood sugar levels—making it even more important for those with Type 2 diabetes to get plenty of physical activity into their day.
Type 2 diabetes causes the level of sugar in the blood—glucose—to become too high. High sugar levels in the blood can then cause serious damage to the body, including the heart, kidneys, eyes, feet, and nerves.
Diabetics can use lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, and medications, such as metformin or gliptin, to lower blood sugar levels. Yet following recommended diets and taking diabetes medications aren’t always effective at controlling blood sugar levels, as our research found. This shows us there’s a need to re-think diabetes care and management.
Type 2 diabetes can be different for everyone. Blood sugar levels can be influenced by different factors, such as age, gender, activity levels, diet, and weight. This makes it important to target new, modifiable lifestyle factors, such as how much time is spent sitting.
The research we’ve done, which looked at 37 adults with Type 2 diabetes, found that over a period of two weeks, prolonged sitting was associated with high blood sugar levels. But we also found that when people stood up or walked around between periods of sitting, they had lower blood sugar levels. Other studies have also produced similar results.
Our research has also shown that sitting less or breaking up periods of sitting with bouts of activity could be a simple way to manage blood sugar levels—including high sugar levels before and after breakfast, which is a common problem for people with Type 2 diabetes. Simply walking more often could help with blood sugar control throughout the day.
In fact, walking every 15 minutes for as little as three minutes each time at a person’s usual pace could be enough to help them control their blood sugar—and could even be as effective as standard diabetes medications. Other research has shown that keeping bouts of sitting shorter than 15 minutes is better for blood sugar levels.
Walking and other exercise is so good for regulating blood sugar because movement causes muscles to contract, which subsequently starts the mechanisms that allow the sugar in the blood to enter cells and fuel the body.
With many people continuing to spend large portions of their days sitting while working from home, it’s important for people with Type 2 diabetes to stand and walk often. Even small changes in sitting patterns throughout the day may improve a person’s blood sugar control. For example, going to the kitchen to get water or make tea can be a great opportunity to walk around for a few minutes. Even standing or walking while taking calls or during meetings can be a good idea.
It’s still important for people with Type 2 diabetes to follow the advice of their doctor and stick to any special diets or medications they’ve been prescribed. But adding extra movement into their day will not only improve blood sugar control, it may also improve other aspects of health, including heart health and bone density.
Aye Chan Paing is a doctoral candidate of sedentary time and glucose control in Type 2 Diabetes at Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland. Sebastien Chastin is a professor of health behavior dynamics of people, places, and systems at Glasgow Caledonian University.
This article was first published on The Conversatio