You can add diabetes to the long list of health woes associated with spending too much time sitting, not the least of which is early death. Sitting, in and of itself, is linked to a higher type 2 diabetes risk, regardless of how much exercise you get and how old you are.

Sedentary time had a stronger connection to the risk factors for diabetes than other measures of activity.

The patients in the study all had some type of risk factors for diabetes and were already involved in two studies analyzing diabetes risk. They answered questions about their sedentary time, the amount of time they spent active but not exercising, the amount of time they spent in moderate-to-vigorous activity (MVPA), and their total activity level.

Researchers tracked various measures like blood glucose, cholesterol, and triglycerides to determine if there were any connections between activity (or inactivity) and these diabetes risk factors.

The amount of time a person spent sitting, or sedentary, was linked to a number of risk factors, like scoring worse on blood sugar, triglycerides (blood fats), and cholesterol. These connections were seen across all age groups and weights, and were present even after other variables that might influence the results were removed. Sedentary time had a stronger connection to the risk factors for diabetes than other measures of activity.

"These studies provide preliminary evidence that sedentary behavior may be a more effective way to target the prevention of type 2 diabetes, rather than just solely focusing on MVPA," said study author Joseph Henson. "Moreover, sedentary time occupies large portions of the day, unlike MVPA."

Henson stresses that a person may need to not only exercise but also reduce their sedentary time. "This approach requires a paradigm shift," Henson says, "so that individuals at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes think about the balance of sedentary behavior and physical activity throughout the day."

Most health-related behaviors require striking a balance. As Henson suggests, working out for 30 minutes a day – the amount currently recommended by the CDC – may not be enough to counteract the effects of a majority of the day spent sitting. Previous evidence has shown that even working about the house or doing chores can make a difference to our health. The new study adds support to the idea that it’s not just a matter of how much we exercise – it’s a matter of how much we don’t.

The study was carried out by a team at the University of Leicester in the UK, and published in the journal, Diabetologia.