How sitting makes you diabetic

Like many of us, I need a lot of convincing to get up off my chair and take a walk, especially when the weather isn’t pleasant.

It’s been a year since I wrote about what walking 4000 steps a day can do to change your brain. It builds up the hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls mood, memory, and learning.

A few months later, I told you about how just two weeks of restricted physical activity can cause your blood sugar to skyrocket into the diabetic range, often never to return to normal levels.

That convinced me. I started walking daily. Then winter happened.

So, it’s a good thing that research into the benefits of walking is ongoing. It serves to remind me, and perhaps you, that if we’ve “fallen off the wagon,” spring is a great time to get moving again.

Especially if you’re already at risk for diabetes.

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Are you at risk?

According to the National Institutes of Health, these are some of the biggest risk factors for diabetes:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Age (45 or older)
  • Having a family history of diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • History of heart disease or stroke
  • Low HDL (“good”) cholesterol and high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
  • Being physically inactive
  • Having depression
  • Having polycystic ovarian disease

Of course, lack of physical activity makes it much more likely you’ll have at least some of the conditions on that list. In fact, lack of exercise increases your chances of death just as much as smoking does.

Are you sitting on a diabetes time bomb?

In a nutshell, here’s how too much sitting can make you diabetic.

You sit all the time. Your heart slows down. It doesn’t circulate those inflammatory stress hormones that come with work, taking care of a family or just living.

When you sit for long periods of time, your leg muscles are inactive, and can’t effectively use the sugars and fats in your blood. In theory, this could lead to weight gain and diabetes.

An international group of researchers wanted to go beyond the idea that sitting causes overweight and high blood sugar. They wanted to test whether these problems with fat and sugar metabolism were directly related to sitting patterns.

On day one, a group of adults sat for eight hours continuously. On day two, these same people were asked to get up every 20 to 30 minutes and walk or do light resistance exercise.

It quickly became apparent that uninterrupted sitting led to higher blood pressure and greater fatigue, as well as higher blood sugar.

However, unless they had subjects sit for years, the researchers realized that it would be impossible to prove a direct connection to diabetes. That’s because diabetes can take years to develop.

More definitive proof

But another long-term observational study proves the point well.

Researchers looked at a group of 6000 women who were part of the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term health study that began in the 1990s and focused on women between 50 and 99.

The women chosen for this observational study were between 65 and 99. Their sedentary patterns were measured for a week.

Comparing these patterns with the women’s health records made it clear that the group with the most uninterrupted sitting patterns had the most women with diabetes.

And just so you know, this isn’t only true of older adults.

A year earlier, researchers in the Netherlands did a similar study with 2500 adults ages 40-75 and also found that patterns of prolonged sitting are associated with higher risk for diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

Time to get moving!

The lesson here is clear. Whether you’re at high risk for diabetes, already have it, or want to avoid it, getting out of your chair and walking is going to help!

Walking doesn’t require special equipment or clothing. Just get out the door in a comfortable, safe pair of walking shoes and enjoy moving your body.

Studies show that walking with other people lowers your cholesterol and heart rate.

To get you going, here are some tips for getting the most out of your walks.

Editor’s note: Did you know diabetes increases your risk of heart disease and stroke? In fact, it can set you up for cancer and Alzheimer’s too. It has to do with your master hormone’s role in helping to disease-proof your body. Click here to learn more


  1. Breaking Up Prolonged Sitting Reduces Postprandial Glucose and Insulin ResponsesDiabetes Care
  2. The Objective Physical Activity and Cardiovascular Disease Health in Older Women (OPACH) StudyBMC Public Health
  3. Just two weeks’ inactivity can trigger diabetic symptoms in vulnerable patients — Medical Xpress
  4. Sitting and diabetes in older adults: Does timing matter? — The Conversation
  5. Associations of total amount and patterns of sedentary behaviour with type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome: The Maastricht StudyDiabetologia
Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.