Sitting down all day is arguably the most dangerous thing that even health and fitness-conscious people do each and every day. Long periods of sitting can significantly increase your risk of suffering many otherwise avoidable diseases including:
- Heart disease
- Poor posture
- Reduced bone mass
- Decreased functionality
In addition, sitting down all days makes some muscles in your body very tight and others stretched and weak. In general, the muscles on the back of your body lose the ability to hold you up against the forces of gravity while the muscles on the front of your body become shortened and pull you forwards. As a result, many of us look like we are sat down even when we are stood up. This can lead to poor posture, neck pain, and back pain.
Exercise IS of course beneficial but three to five hours of exercise per week (a typical average) cannot hope to undo the damage caused by sitting for 100 hours or more over the course of seven days.
One possible solution to this sitting epidemic is the standing desk…
Standing desks are, as the name implies, work stations specially designed to allow you to work while stood up. The idea is that, if sitting is so bad, standing must be better. Working at a standing desk is believed to provide several benefits…
1) reduced risk of obesity – in studies, one of the biggest difference between overweight and normal weight people was the amount of time spent seated. Those who sat the most tended to also be the most overweight. Standing engages not only the legs but the core too and this means you’ll burn more calories standing than seated. This increased calorie expenditure means there are fewer excess calories to be converted to fat and that, if you control your calorie intake, you’ll also lose fat faster.
2) Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and other metabolic problems – it’s not just being overweight that’s bad for your health; a sedentary lifestyle is also a contributing factor. Even if you exercise, if you spend the vast majority of your time sat down, you run the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and other metabolic problems. Working at a standing desk may reduce your risk of developing diseases commonly associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
3) Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease – when you spend long periods sat down, your circulation slows to a crawl. This means oxygenated blood does not make it to your extremities and blood vessels and even your heart can become damaged. Studies reveal that standing is much less likely to lead to cardiovascular disease. One such study dates back to the UK in the 1950s. Bus drivers were far more likely to develop heart disease than bus conductors who spent the majority of the same journey standing.
4) Reduced risk of cancer – long periods of siting statistically increase the risk of developing some cancers including breast and colon cancer. A 2011 study suggests that as many as 49,000 cases of cancer could be directly attributable to long periods of sitting. The underlying mechanism by which sitting increases cancer risk is still unclear, but scientists have found a number of biomarkers, such as C-reactive protein, that are present in higher levels in people who sit for long periods of time. These may be tied to the development of cancer.
5) All-cause mortality – the more time you spend sitting, the more likely you are to die prematurely. In contrast, people who stand and walk more tend to have longer lifespans. A 2010 Australian study, for instance, found that for each extra hour participants spent sitting daily, their overall risk of dying during the study period (seven years) increased by 11 percent. A 2012 study found that if the average American reduced his or her sitting time to three hours per day, life expectancy would climb by two years.
So, does this mean you should throw away your regular workstation and make a standing desk instead? Maybe, but maybe not…
No need to give up sitting completely
Sitting is often described as this “this generations’ smoking” but while research does support the danger of sitting and the benefits of standing more, it’s important to understand that there is more than one solution to this “sitting disease”.
For example, simply getting up and moving around for five minutes every hour can significantly reduce the dangers of prolonged sitting. And what about habitual and professional drivers – they won’t get any benefit from a standing desk!
Standing all day is hard – ask any shop or factory worker. In fact, standing all day can lead to foot problems, varicose veins, back pain and general fatigue – and you will be less inclined to exercise if you are tired all the time. Yes, you might end up sitting less and standing more but if you can’t find the energy to exercise, have you simply swapped one problem for another?
The instant standing desk option
If you do decide you’d like to try a standing desk, you can make a temporary one by simply putting your chair on your desk and your laptop on your chair. This might sound (and look) crazy but is often a viable solution so you can try working while standing and seeing if it’s for you. If this test goes well, you might then like to consider a more permanent solution – Ikea make great standing desks which are, like all their products, very competitively priced.
Be warned – going from sitting all the time to standing is not easy so you should consider alternating an hour of sitting with an hour of standing to acclimate your body to the new demands you are going to place on it. Also, prepare for an initial drop in productivity as you find the set up that works best for you.
Standing more and sitting less will do you nothing but good but you don’t need to jump on the standing desk bandwagon if you don’t want to. There are plenty of other ways to sit less and stand more, none of which require that you refurnish your office. Simply walking over to speak to colleagues face-to-face instead of emailing or phoning them is just one viable option and walking meetings is another. Standing desks might be trendy right now but there is more than one way to skin the sitting proverbial cat!