“Sitting is the new smoking.”
“Sitting is bad for your back.”
“Sitting causes bad posture.”
“Sitting makes you fat.”
Quick! Get out of your chair and throw it out the window before it kills you!
Sorry, just trying to be funny. Your chair isn’t the problem, it’s how much you use it that may be the issue.
I’m not necessarily an “anti-chair” zealot, but I do dislike the overuse of them. Ever since building a standing desk addition to my desk at home (pictured below), I’ve become fonder of standing and less fond of sitting because of the way it makes me feel, how my productivity increases, and how my focus improves. But don’t just take my word for it.
I work at this desk anywhere from 2-6 hours a day; the rest of my day is spent on my feet working elsewhere. As you can see, I’ve got plenty of space to stand as I wish. To supplement my joy for standing, I’ve got a lacrosse ball for rolling the bottom of my feet and a piece of PVC pipe for standing on to accomplish nearly the same purpose (great for taking care of the tight tissues on the bottom of your feet). The gray object to the left is just an inflated disk that I sometimes stand on to stretch or work my calves (which doesn’t happen when sitting), or just to mix it up (and help maintain strong ankles and good balance).
One of my favorite authors, Kelly Starrett, author of Becoming a Supple Leopard, Deskbound, and Ready to Run, has said, “sitting is death”. I know, it sounds a bit extreme.
To better relate to you (and hopefully make you not think I’m a zealot), I’d paraphrase that to say, “Sitting = lots of problems that could be avoided if you didn’t sit so dang much.”
This is an important subject in my eyes and one that requires repeating. In the photo at the top of the page (in the background of the title), you can see a [standing] desk perfectly at elbow height at a car dealership I was recently at. It has three tall chairs and a bar at the bottom about 6 inches off the ground. When I see something like this, I get pretty excited; not because I hate sitting, but because I have the option to stand! I even get a bar to prop a foot up onto as I stand, making it easier to keep a neutral spine and maintain good posture as I wait.
That’s my computer to the left, with my backpack and jacket on the chair pushed to the side.
Not to make any judgments, just light assumptions based on her snack and beverage of choice, but I’m betting the lady who came up next to me to sit down came to the dealership in the middle of an inactive workday. A workday where she sat at a desk, followed by sitting (we have no other choice) in her car on the way to the car dealership, just to sit and wait for her car to be done so she could go back to work and sit for the rest of the day. After work, she’s likely going to sit down to dinner as most of us do, and maybe even sit on the couch while she watches her favorite show, The Voice. She likely would’ve spent 13-15 hours of her day sitting, and the rest of it transporting her body from one seat to the next. This is how a lot of people live their lives.
Do you know the feeling you get when you’re sitting in a car for 2-3 hours without stopping and get out to stretch? Your body feels like stretching because it’s cramped, tight, and inactive, and that’s exactly what you’re doing to it to every day you sit for prolonged periods of time (by prolonged, let’s say over an hour at a time without standing). It’s very unnatural.
Sitting too much can cause issues down the road. It might currently give you really tight hip flexors and rolled-forward shoulders. It might cause lower back pain – one of the biggest “health” issues we face today. It might lead to a decrease in your cardiac output (essentially, contributing to you being in “worse shape” and making you huff and puff after walking two flights of stairs). It might contribute to your risk of dying early from cardiovascular disease or diabetes. The associations between sitting for prolonged periods and a sedentary lifestyle are abundant already, but more studies need to measure the direct impact on the human body that comes from too much sitting.
As we know,
correlation/association does not = causation
This is an important reason why you need to try the whole “standing more often” thing for yourself. See how it makes you feel, see how it makes you focus, and see how it makes you act.
Getting up and walking around and/or stretching every 20-30 minutes if you work at a desk can make a big difference in your health, posture, focus, and productivity. If you work a desk job, there are three things that I would recommend trying for one week straight to see how your body feels:
- Stand up and walk around your office (maybe 1 minute of walking) every 30-45 minutes. If you feel you don’t have the time, make the time, just for this week.
- Stretch the front of your hip and your core by performing the following stretch once every 1-2 hours (or every other walking break to make it simple) for 20-30 seconds total per side.
- Assume a “lunge” stance with your front left knee bent about 90 degrees, and back right leg straight. Reach up with your right hand as high as you can, push your hips down towards the ground, and lean to your left while letting out a long, deep breath. Repeat on the other side.
- Stretch your chest/anterior shoulder.
- Stand in a doorway and place both of your elbows or hands against the doorframe. Slightly lean forward through the doorway until you feel a stretch in the front of your shoulders and your chest. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.
Like I said, give it a week and see how you feel. If you don’t like it and miss your consistent one-on-one chair time, I still give you an “A” for effort.
Bailey, Daniel P., David R. Broom, Bryna C.r. Chrismas, Lee Taylor, Edward Flynn, and John Hough. “Breaking up prolonged sitting time with walking does not affect appetite or gut hormone concentrations but does induce an energy deficit and suppresses postprandial glycaemia in sedentary adults.” Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism ja (2015).
Dunstan, David W., Alicia A. Thorp, and Genevieve N. Healy. “Prolonged sitting: is it a distinct coronary heart disease risk factor?.” Current opinion in cardiology 26.5 (2011): 412-419.
Duvivier, Bernard F. M., Nicolaas C. Schaper, Michelle A. Bremers, Glenn Van Crombrugge, Paul P. C. A. Menheere, Marleen Kars, and Hans H. C. M. Savelberg. “Minimal intensity physical activity (standing and walking) of longer duration improves insulin action and plasma lipids more than shorter periods of moderate to vigorous exercise (cycling) in sedentary subjects when energy expenditure is comparable.” PloS one 8.2 (2013): e55542.
Starrett, Kelly, and Glen Cordoza. Becoming a supple leopard: The ultimate guide to resolving pain, preventing injury, and optimizing athletic performance. Victory Belt Pub., 2013.
Starrett, Kelly, Glen Cordoza, and Juliet Starrett. Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World. Simon and Schuster, 2016.