The big standing up experiment

Dr Chris van Tullekan sets out to investigate extraordinary claims coming from America, Australia and the UK that the amount of sitting we tend to do these days is ruining our health – and that just getting up off our backsides for an extra 3-4 hours per day could slash our risk of heart disease and diabetes.

These claims were all based on correlations and questionnaires – people were asked how long they sat down, or how long they watched TV, and this was compared to their health and longevity. So is there actually a link, and if so – can make ourselves healthier simply by standing up for a few more hours a day?

Together with Dr John Buckley and his team at the University of Chester, Chris puts this claim to the test, by getting an office full of people to ditch the chairs for at least 3 hours a day for one week. Dr Buckley’s team fits everyone with a pedometer, heart rate monitor and a blood glucose monitor recording a normal sitting day, and then a day where they are all asked to stand at their desks.

The results are rather spectacular. The week of standing at their desks didn’t make the office workers walk around more, as some predicted it might. However, just the act of standing up raised their heart rates by a tiny amount – which, when averaged over the days, weeks and months leads to the equivalent number of calories burned as if they’d run about 10 marathons in the year.

More relevant to the health claims made for standing up, though, were the results of the blood glucose monitors. These were constantly monitoring the office workers’ blood sugar levels throughout the day. When we eat, our blood sugar goes up. However, if it remains high it can damage the linings of our blood vessels and increase our risks of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, so our bodies need to clear the sugar as quickly as possible.

The monitors showed that when the office workers were standing up, they cleared the sugar from their blood much more quickly than when they were sitting down – a pattern seen in those with more active lifestyles. This is a very significant finding. Just the very gentle exercise our body gets from standing up helps us get rid of high blood sugar after lunch.

So the message to all of us is simple, and quite achievable – just try doing a little more standing up in your day – whilst at work, on your commute, whilst having lunch or whilst watching TV. It could make a significant difference to your health.