Last year, I pointed readers to an article in The New York Times (“Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?“) challenging the conventional wisdom that the best way to minimize the risks of a sedentary lifestyle is to get some exercise. The author wrote:
People don’t need the experts to tell them that sitting around too much could give them a sore back or a spare tire. The conventional wisdom, though, is that if you watch your diet and get aerobic exercise at least a few times a week, you’ll effectively offset your sedentary time. A growing body of inactivity research, however, suggests that this advice makes scarcely more sense than the notion that you could counter a pack-a-day smoking habit by jogging. “Exercise is not a perfect antidote for sitting,” says Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
Recent studies show that inactivity (in the form of sitting for long periods of time) is unhealthy in and of itself, no matter how much exercise you may get later:
The posture of sitting itself probably isn’t worse than any other type of daytime physical inactivity, like lying on the couch watching “Wheel of Fortune.” But for most of us, when we’re awake and not moving, we’re sitting. This is your body on chairs: Electrical activity in the muscles drops — “the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse,” Hamilton says — leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects. Your calorie-burning rate immediately plunges to about one per minute, a third of what it would be if you got up and walked. Insulin effectiveness drops within a single day, and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes rises. So does the risk of being obese. The enzymes responsible for breaking down lipids and triglycerides — for “vacuuming up fat out of the bloodstream,” as Hamilton puts it — plunge, which in turn causes the levels of good (HDL) cholesterol to fall.
The article (and the infographic below) really bothered me, mainly because my writing / editing responsibilities keep me seated in front of the computer most of the day. I had already sought to offset my sedentary lifestyle by starting each morning with a brisk walk through downtown Nashville. I also worked my way up and down the eight flights of stairs to my office, took frequent walks, went outside for fresh air, and made a point to walk downtown for lunch. But even with these changes, most of my day was still spent sitting.
In January, I switched offices. In the middle of the move, I asked about the possibility of getting a standing desk. There happened to be an unused standing desk in an empty office nearby, and I quickly put it to good use.
For the first couple of days, it felt strange to stand up while working. But once I got used to the new arrangement, I started to like it. At first, I would wear out by late afternoon. So I’d lower the desk (it is electronic) and take a seat for the rest of the day. But as the weeks went by, I eventually adjusted to the new routine and stopped feeling the need to sit. Now, it’s rare for me to sit down. I stand all day.
I don’t know the impact of standing on my health. More than likely, one can find studies that warn about the potential side effects and risks from being on your feet too much. But overall, I’m a fan of the standing desk. I think better. I have more energy. Plus, there’s something psychological about standing. The New York Times article concluded this way:
Dr. Levine was in a philosophical mood as we left the temp agency. For all of the hard science against sitting, he admits that his campaign against what he calls “the chair-based lifestyle” is not limited to simply a quest for better physical health. His is a war against inertia itself, which he believes sickens more than just our body. “Go into cubeland in a tightly controlled corporate environment and you immediately sense that there is a malaise about being tied behind a computer screen seated all day,” he said. “The soul of the nation is sapped, and now it’s time for the soul of the nation to rise.”
I realize that a standing desk is not for everyone. An acquaintance of mine tried it for a few weeks and never could get used to it. His feet and legs ached in the evening. But for me, I don’t think I’ll go back to a regular desk. It’s worked out great for me.
What about you? Has anyone else experimented with a standing desk? What have the results been for you?