Is Sitting That Bad for Health?
Researchers say “sitting is the new smoking” for our generation. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure too much sitting increases backaches, shoulder fatigue and stress on the spine. Sitting around without much intermittent movement, is terrible for muscles that go in a near-dead mode when sitting for extended periods of time. Body on chair translates to:
- Reduced calorie-burning rate of 1 per minute, compared to 3 per minute for standing and walking
- Reduced insulin effectiveness within a single day
- Reduced HDL (good) cholesterol levels
- Increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes
- Increased risk of risk of being obese
- Increased negative impact on body as quickly as 24 hours and the continued damage accumulated over a lifetime
- Decreased lifespans
Sitting for long hours gained particular notoriety when New York Times published a blog in 2014 titled “Sit Less Live Longer” about the over-sitting problem and how it could be killing us. Though the human body has historically been used to regular activity, in recent decades, sedentary lifestyle due to excessive sitting has become a part of our daily existence.
Reduced Sitting Times Improve Health
Research indicates that movement and standing for varying periods and varying posture is important – after all, the human body is meant to be on two feet.
Dr. Jensen of the Mayo Clinic, collaborated with Dr. Levine on a 6-year long study to find that –
Subjects in the study who gained weight sat about 2 hours more than subjects to did not.
The study originally was aimed at determining if some people who consume the same amount in food, gain more weight than others? People who didn’t gain weight inadvertently moved around more (exercising extra was prohibited in the study), even when subjects were fed them about 1,000 calories more per day compared to subjects who gained weight.
In another groundbreaking study, the British Medical Journal came up with a promising finding –
Reducing the sitting time in 68-year olds, was associated with an increased length in their telomeres.
What is a Telomere? Telomeres sit at the tip of the DNA strand protecting the cell from wear and tear and day-to-day damage. A healthy telomere helps the cell conduct its function better. Essentially shorter telomere = less healthy cell.
In this study, Swedish scientists took blood samples 6 months apart in 49, sedentary and overweight 68-year olds. The intervention group was prescribed to an increased physical activity plan. The sitting time decreased and activity increased significantly in the intervention group – the reduced sitting time was also associated with telomere lengthening in blood cells in the intervention group.
Standing Desks – An Elixir?
Though, there’s no hard science about standing being beneficial, but standing desks have gained fame as an alternative to sitting and working all day. Though, there’s risk with varicose veins, pressure on back and the spine, corporate America has embraced standing desks with open arms.
A 2014 study that studied 28 sedentary office workers over a period of 4 weeks, indicates that the sit-stand desks helped reduced the sedentary siting time by 21%. The study also found office workers experienced –
Overall sense of well-being, energy, decreased fatigue, had no impact on productivity, and reduced appetite and dietary intake.
I started standing and working for over a year now and have been able to reduce acute back and shoulder aches – usual culprits arising from continuous sitting in front of monitor. I have a make-shift standing desk at home and a proper standing-sitting desk arrangement at work. I have never worked more productively and am pleased with the impact on general well-being so far.
Though standing desk is not for everyone, I still recommend our readers setting up a temporary standing work station and assessing the impact on their wellness. I stand for nearly 6-8 hours with varying posture and movement included, and sit for 2-3 hours at work and home.
Pre-caution! Issues to Consider
- Body Needs Time to Adapt to Standing – If you are not used to stand and work, it will take time getting used to standing and working. When I started initially, my knees after 1 hour of standing. I have built my stamina over a year and I still take frequent walking breaks.
- Standing May Not be For You – Many people have a difficultly standing and thinking. They can only sit and work, and despite appreciating the health benefits of standing desks, they are unable to stand and be productive.
- Your Feet Will take a Beating – I use a thick high density foam mat to absorb the pressure on my feet. I do move around to ensure I am not putting too much pressure on my feet at a time – the body itself corrects my posture and standing stance.
- Side Effect = Varicose Veins & Tight Thighs – I didn’t realize the impact on my thighs from standing a lot. They have become significantly stronger compared to before. Many others have reported an increase in varicose veins, but so far, that has not been a significant problem for me. Yoga really helps reduce the impact on veins and muscles and is critical for posture.
Apparently standing desks, and standing-sitting arrangements are not new adaptations. Some of the greatest thinkers and artists of this world used standing desks – Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemmingway, Da Vinci, Sir Winston Churchill to name a few.
If you haven’t already tried the standing desk it is worth trying the sitting and standing for at least part of your day. When you are not bound to your seat, it is important to move around. Bodies are meant for motion – not stillness. Treat your body to activity and motion!
- Sick of Sitting
- Using sit-stand workstations to decrease sedentary time in office workers: a randomized crossover trial