Lounging around may seem like the perfect way to spend your free time, but as a new study points out, it may increase risk of disease. The study also reveals that it's standing which is beneficial for health.
The study found that standing and other non-exercise activities burn many calories in most adults even if they do not exercise at all, and points out that actively exercising is not the only way to make a healthy difference in an otherwise sedentary lifestyle.
"Many activities like talking on the phone or watching a child's ballgame can be done just as enjoyably upright, and you burn double the number of calories while you're doing it," said Marc Hamilton, an associate professor of biomedical sciences whose work was recently published in Diabetes.
"We're pretty stationary when we're talking on the phone or sitting in a chair at a ballgame, but if you stand, you're probably going to pace or move around," he added.
In a series of studies that will be presented at the Second International Congress on Physical Activity and Public Health in Amsterdam, Hamilton, Theodore Zderic, a post-doctoral researcher, and their research team studied the impact of inactivity among rats, pigs and humans.
In humans, they found evidence that sitting in office chairs, using computers, reading, talking on the phone and watching TV, had negative effects on fat and cholesterol metabolism. It was also revealed that physical inactivity throughout the day led to disease-promoting processes, and even an hour's exercise per day, was insufficient to avert the effect.
"The enzymes in blood vessels of muscles responsible for 'fat burning' are shut off within hours of not standing. Standing and moving lightly will re-engage the enzymes, but since people are awake 16 hours a day, it stands to reason that when people sit much of that time they are losing the opportunity for optimal metabolism throughout the day," Hamilton said.
There are a lot of common non-exercise physical activities that people can do instead of sitting, like, performing household chores, shopping, typing while standing and even fidgeting while standing, researchers suggested.
The work of muscles is necessary to hold the body's weight upright, but standing could double the metabolic rate. Hamilton desires that creative strategies in homes, communities and workplaces can help solve the problem of inactivity. He believes that scientists and the public have underestimated common activities as sporadic, which do not take as much effort as a heavy workout.
"To hold a body that weighs 170 pounds upright takes a fair amount of energy from muscles. You can appreciate that our legs are big and strong because they must be used all the time. There is a large amount of energy associated with standing every day that can't be easily compensated for by 30 to 60 minutes at the gym," he said. It was also revealed that only 28 percent of Americans are getting the minimal amount of recommended exercise. Hamilton predicted that just like doctors ask people to limit sun and second hand smoke exposure, similarly there would be health campaigns with doctors advocating limiting sitting time.
"The purpose of medical research is to offer effective new strategies for people whom the existing therapies are not working. Because our research reveals that too little exercise and excessive sitting do not change health by the same genes and biological mechanisms, it offers hope for people who either are not seeing results from exercise or can not exercise regularly," he said.
"The lifestyle change we are studying is also unlike exercise because it does not require that people squeeze an extra hour into their days and/or get sweaty at the gym, but instead improving the quality of what they already are doing.
"One misrepresentation is that people tend to say 'I sit all the time, so your studies suggest that I can't even work,' but Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson showed us that you can be very productive and still do great work in an office with a 'standing' desk," he added.