By Samir Vermani, M.D.:
Your one-hour spinning class may be a good workout, but simply taking the stairs may be better.
When the amount of calories burned is the same, standing and walking over the course of a day is superior to an hour of intense exercise in improving cholesterol and preventing diabetes, a new study found.
"Get out of your chair as much as you can, take the stairs instead of the elevator, go by bike [and] leave your car at home," said Hans Savelberg, associate professor in the Department of Human Movement Sciences at Maastricht University Medical Centre, in the Netherlands, and author of the study published today in the journal PLOS One.
Danish researchers followed 18 young people ages 19 to 24, all of normal weight, who performed three separate exercise regimens over the course of the study. In the first, participants did not exercise and sat for 14 hours. In the second, participants sat for 13 hours, but performed one hour of vigorous cycling. In the third, participants sat for 8 hours, but engaged in 4 hours of walking and 2 hours of standing.
Energy expenditure was the same in the vigorous exercise regimen and the standing and walking regimen. After each regimen, researchers tracked insulin sensitivity - a laboratory test to monitor development of diabetes - and cholesterol levels.
It may be of no surprise that researchers found the participants had improved insulin sensitivity and lower cholesterol by simply walking and standing compared with when they performed no activity. Surprisingly, however, the researchers also found the participants who walked and stood had improved insulin sensitivity, more so than when they participated in one hour of intense exercise.
"This is a very intriguing small study that provides further evidence that sitting around all day is bad for your health," said ABC News' chief health and medical editor, Dr. Richard Besser. "People need to get up and move. The number of hours you spend sitting appear to have negative consequences that can't be overcome by concentrating all your energy in a one-hour work out."
The World Health Organization recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity. However, there are no guidelines regarding how the other 9,930 minutes of the week should be spent. Researchers say this study points out how important it is to not just exercise but to have an overall active lifestyle.
"If you exercise for half an hour and are sedentary for the rest of the day, that represents an unhealthy lifestyle," said Savelberg. "Long periods of non-sitting at a low intensity level should be classified as an active lifestyle."