Is a standing desk the answer? We’ve all heard that “sitting is the new smoking.” It turns out that standing may not be the solution either.
Extended Sitting Can Be Hazardous to Your Health
Research shows that you can reduce your chances of cancer, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and back pain, all with one simple lifestyle change: reduce the time you spend sitting.
James Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, coined the catchy phrase “sitting is the new smoking,” and is a proponent of getting us up out of our chairs. According to Dr. Levine:
- Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting.
- We are sitting ourselves to death.
- The chair is out to kill us.
- He estimates that, in the US, we spend more than half of our waking hours sitting down. We’re either watching TV, driving, or sitting at a desk at work or at home.
Dr. Levine isn’t the only one who believes that we’re sitting ourselves to death. There’s a growing body of research that supports his claim.
Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division and author of the “Sitting Kills, Moving Heals” says:
- We weren’t designed to sit.
- The body is a perpetual motion machine.
Your Daily Exercise Isn’t Enough
Even working out strenuously every day doesn’t negate extended periods of sitting.
The research shows that though exercise is good for you, it doesn’t negate the damage done by extended periods of sitting.
Professor Marc Hamilton, Ph.D., from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, says that he sees the effects of prolonged sitting across the board. “We see it in people who smoke and people who don’t. We see it in people who are regular exercisers and those who aren’t. Sitting is an independent risk factor.”
What Does Prolonged Sitting Do to Your Body?
Marathon sitting sessions change your body’s metabolism. According to Gavin Bradley, director of Active Working, “Metabolism slows down 90 percent after 30 minutes of sitting. The enzymes that move the bad fat from your arteries to your muscles, where it can get burned off, slow down. The muscles in your lower body are turned off. And after two hours, good cholesterol drops 20 percent. Just getting up for five minutes is going to get things going again. These things are so simple they’re almost stupid.”
Toni Yancey, a professor of health services at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, describes the process: “Sitting shuts down electrical activity in the legs. It makes the body less sensitive to insulin, causes calorie-burning to plummet, and slows the breakdown of dangerous blood fats, lowering ‘good’ HDL cholesterol.”
These are some of the effects of prolonged sitting:
- Increased chance of obesity
- Back, neck, & sciatica pain from sitting
- Increased risk of cancer
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- Increased rates of Type 2 diabetes
- Shortens your lifespan
Now that you understand the dangers of sitting all day, is the answer a standing desk? Plenty of options are available and the products are marketed as a solution to the dangers of being sedentary.
Is a Standing Desk the Answer to a Desk Job?
The standing desk is all the rage in the workplace. Even very traditional fields like legal and accounting practices are starting to furnish their employees with standing desks.
But, new research published in the journal Ergonomics points to some interesting evidence about standing desks: They may not be as good for us as we think.
- For the study, researchers had 20 people stand for two hours at a time.
- They found that creative problem-solving improved.
- But, participants experienced increased swelling in their lower limbs and saw a decrease in mental state.
The Real Antidote to Sitting
The answer is that your body needs to move. Standing up is not moving. And standing in one place can put stress on your limbs. Here are some ways to force yourself to be conscious of the need to move at regular intervals:
- Set a timer on your phone to remind you to stand every hour
- Buy a smartwatch like the Apple Watch that will cue you to stand every hour
- Walk the long way when doing office tasks or going to the restroom
- Walk during conference calls
- Take a few 10 minute walks throughout the day
- Take the stairs and parking further away from the entrance
My Experience with a Standing Desk
I bought a Varidesk standing desk several years ago along with a thick mat to stand on. A Varidesk is a telescoping platform that you place on top of your existing desk. For the first few months I used it quite a bit. Then, less and less and finally, after reading the research, I gave it away.
I found that I had trouble concentrating when I was standing and typing. Also, it became easy to ignore the desk and keep sitting. My feet hurt even with the mat. I wasn’t convinced it was really doing much for my body or metabolism.
I’ll bet my experience with my standing desk if not unique. Your focus should be on walking. Just get up and start moving.