Week of December 31, 2012
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

AICR HealthTalk
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: If I stand at work instead of sit, can that really help me lose weight?

A: Standing does burn more calories than sitting, but the effect of this change alone is small enough that it’s more likely to help reduce weight gain than to actually promote weight loss on its own. It could play a role in overall health, as long as it’s part of a lifestyle shift. Studies show that even when we get the recommended 30 to 60 minutes of moderate physical activity (like brisk walking), if we sit virtually all the rest of the day, our total physical activity can remain so low that it makes weight control difficult and does not promote overall good health. More research is underway looking at this question. It’s possible that the impact of standing versus sitting may go beyond the difference in calories burned, to effects on hormones and overall metabolism. Some small, short-term studies so far show that by standing instead of sitting to do desk work – for example, putting a computer keyboard on a filing cabinet or counter – people may burn more calories per hour. The weight impact of any of these changes depends on how many hours a day you do them. With a switch from sitting to standing for several hours a day, that alone could help avoid the gradual weight gain many adults experience, and is an example of one small change that could be coupled with other “small steps” to produce gradual weight loss. For weight loss, the key is changing the balance of how many calories you take in and how many you burn. Spending more time standing throughout the day seems to offer multiple metabolic and health benefits, even if it doesn’t lead to significant weight loss. So try substituting more standing for sitting; and if you want to lose weight, add in a few other substitutions in your eating habits that might make an even bigger shift in calorie balance.

Q: Is it true that alcohol is a good sleep aid?

A: Not really. Alcohol leads to lower quality, less renewing sleep. It keeps people in lighter stages of sleep from which they are more easily awakened, and it reduces the amount of deep, restorative sleep. Alcohol also lessens the amount of time spent in the REM stage, where dreams occur. This sleep stage is considered important for learning and overall mental health. Alcohol can reduce how much time it takes to fall asleep, but its effectiveness gradually wears off in people who drink alcohol frequently.

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