Many underlying factors come together to raise your risk for type 2 diabetes, including genetic predisposition and environmental factors such as calories intake, physical inactivity and unhealthy sleeping patterns. In fact, it is a well-established fact that lack of exercise puts you at an increased risk of obesity and diabetes. But evolving research in this field is an indicator that the amount of time you spend in uninterrupted sitting, irrespective of your daily exercise regime whatever it may be, has a potential to increase your risk of type 2 diabetes.
In the times that we live today, lengthy sitting durations have crept into our lives in the form of working on our desk at a computer, watching television, driving, commuting and playing video games. Considering the bulk of our time we spend on these physically inactive pursuits on a daily basis, this information should be alarming. However, it shouldn’t come as a surprise. Shocking health outcomes from a sedentary lifestyle makes sense even from the evolutionary perspective as our bodies are not physically and socially designed to sit all day, but rather engage in physical work. Modern lifestyle has created an inconsistency between what we are supposed to do and what we are doing.
A recent 2016 study published in Diabetologia  suggests that prolonged sitting time may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. What's more, if you think going to the gym or engaging in some physical activity after spending all day deskbound may offset this risk, brace yourself to be disappointed. The research indicates that regardless of how much exercise or walking you may do, every hour spent sitting increases your chances of developing diabetes. The researchers concluded that “An extra hour of sedentary time was associated with a 22% increased [risk] for type 2 diabetes and a 39% increased [risk] for the metabolic syndrome.”
However the researchers admit that the study has its limitations, saying that “The pattern in which sedentary time was accumulated was weakly associated with the presence of the metabolic syndrome. These results suggest that sedentary behaviour may play a significant role in the development and prevention of type 2 diabetes, although longitudinal studies are needed to confirm our findings.”
Sedentary Lifestyle: It’s Not Just Diabetes
The worrying part is that you may still be prone to type 2 diabetes and obesity even with regular exercise if your lifestyle is otherwise sedentary. Too much time spent sitting increases the probability of developing metabolic syndrome – a cluster of conditions that include high blood sugar, excessive fat around the abdomen, abnormal levels of HDL and LDL, cholesterol and elevated blood pressure. It is a condition where the cells develop insulin resistance and lose their ability to effectively utilize insulin to absorb glucose – leading to spikes in blood sugar. Insulin resistance is an established risk factor for type 2 diabetes. With the risk of type 2 diabetes, your chances of associated complications such as heart disease, kidney disorders, eye complications and peripheral nerve damage that may even lead to limb amputations also inevitably increase.
The adverse health outcomes, in fact, extend beyond the markers for diabetes and metabolic disorders. Many studies prove that too much sitting is an independent risk factor contributing to a list of chronic diseases including cardiovascular diseases and even premature death    . Yes, it can even kill. According to the World Health Organization, physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality.
What is also recurring and highlighted in most of these studies is that participating in leisure-time physical activity does not completely mitigate the risks associated with prolonged sitting. In addition, sedentary behaviour is also linked with an increased risk of developing certain types of cancer, back, neck and muscle pain - and even dementia.
It is however a bit of a mystery how being a couch potato puts one at risk of diabetes and other chronic conditions. But it is generally believed that prolonged sitting slows the glucose and lipid metabolism – interfering with body’s ability to regulate glucose uptake, blood pressure and fat breakdown .
Take steps to manage your overall-health. Literally!
Regular physical exercise, along with other lifestyle and dietary modifications, continue to be one of the most recommended therapies to prevent and manage conditions such as obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. And with good reason.
However, in the light of emerging evidence that links prolonged sitting time with significant damage to cardio-metabolic and overall health, even in people who regularly exercise, people should create more opportunities to increase their movement and break-up sustained sitting time while at work, during commute or even at home.
How even a slight movement can impact has been aptly summed up by an article in Mayo Clinic as, “The impact of movement — even leisurely movement — can be profound. For starters, you'll burn more calories. This might lead to weight loss and increased energy. Even better, the muscle activity needed for standing and other movement seems to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars within the body. When you sit, these processes stall — and your health risks increase. When you're standing or actively moving, you kick the processes back into action.” 
A study published in Diabetes Journal  suggests that when prolonged sitting time is interrupted with short bouts of light to moderate walking, it results in reducing the glucose and insulin levels after meal in obese people and notes that “this may improve glucose metabolism and potentially be an important public health and clinical intervention strategy for reducing cardiovascular risk.”
It is time to step up your game and literally so. Are you ready?
- Van der Berg et al. Associations of total amount and patterns of sedentary behaviour with type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome: The Maastricht Study. Diabetologia. 2016
- Bankoski A et al. Sedentary activity associated with metabolic syndrome independent of physical activity. Diabetes Care. 2011
- Julie Corliss. Too much sitting linked to heart disease, diabetes, premature death. Harvard Health Publications. 2015
- Dunstan et al. Too much sitting – A health hazard. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice. 2012.
- Biswas et al. Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2015
- NHS Choices. Why sitting too much is bad for your health. 2014
- James A. Levine. What are the risks of sitting too much? Mayo Clinic.
- Dunstan et al. Breaking Up Prolonged Sitting Reduces Postprandial Glucose and Insulin Responses. Diabetes Care. 2012.