Researchers have found that sitting causes changes in the body that are linked to inflammation and 35 chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Various studies have shown that even regular exercise won’t compensate for the negative impact that sitting has on your health. Sitting for more than an hour causes calories to be sent to fat storage instead of to muscles (the enzyme that burns fat – called Lipoprotein Lipase- decreases by 90%). Sitting also decreases circulation, increases inflammation, causes fatigue, and affects mood.
Most Americans have a sedentary lifestyle and are in a seated position for most of their day: during their commute, at work, when they eat, as well as when they watch TV. Prolonged sitting can lead to neck and back pain. When we sit, we tend to slouch and slouching loads the lumbar discs and shortens the hamstring and hip muscles. It’s no wonder that 80% of Americans have suffered from low back pain. Sitting also causes people to hunch over their computers which strains the neck, shoulders, and spine, leading to chronic pain. I see many patients with neck and back pain that is caused by sitting too long for too many years in front of a computer.
The solution is to stand up more during the day, or better yet, move around. It’s actually more about moving than standing. People who are on their feet at work for more than 2 hours a day have a decreased risk of developing chronic diseases. Standing requires activation of the leg and core muscles. These are the large muscles in the body that have high metabolic demands. This is the same reason that you burn more calories when you do a lower body workout than an upper body one. Standing substantially increases circulation and decreases inflammation compared to sitting. At the end of the day, people who stand and move around have more energy, feel less fatigues, and are in better mood compared to people who sit.
A recommended daily formula at work is to sit for 20 minutes, stand for 8, and walk around for 2. One way to achieve this would be to purchase a sit-stand desk (as opposed to a standing only desk). It allows you to change positions from sitting to standing throughout the day. If you purchase one of these desks, please remember to slowly ease into standing. If you’ve spent years sitting all day at work, your leg and core muscles are not conditioned for you to stand up all day. I’ve had many patients get a standing desk and quickly develop pain in their feet, knees, or low back because they went from sitting all day to standing all day. Avoid these issues by slowly increasing the amount of time that you stand. Start small. You may be surprised. If you start to feel any discomfort, you may want to get an anti-fatigue mat to stand on because it is much gentler on the feet and knees.
It’s important to remember to move around at a standing desk – and not to just stand still all day. Too much standing in one place for a prolonged time can actually also contribute to joint pain and vascular issues such as varicose veins, so remember to sway, rock back and forth, and stretch if you are unable to sit. You may want to put something on the floor like a small stool so that you can perch one foot at a time on it. Whatever you do, don’t wear high heels when you’re at a standing desk. Comfortable shoes are key.
I think that in the future, most offices will have sit-stand desks to improve their employees health, energy, and productivity. Many people currently don’t have a standing desk option yet at their workplace. In this case, there are many solutions. You could take regular breaks by setting an alarm. Experts recommend standing up or moving around every 20-30 minutes. At the minimum, move from a seated position every hour (remember: after one hour your body sends calories to fat storage). Other ideas are to stand up when on the phone, drink more water so you have to take more bathroom breaks, and stand up during meetings. Take a walk at lunch. Even a short walk, or climbing a few sets of steps is helpful.
Some people make an agreement with colleagues that they’ll stand when they are having one on one meetings. Another option is to place a copier farther away from your desk so you actually have to walk around more. If you’re confined to a chair, an excellent option is to purchase an inflatable seated disc that you place on your chair. It allows similar movement to sitting on a large exercise ball, but the movement is subtler and is much more manageable than an exercise ball. Perform simple exercises in your seat such as rocking your pelvis front to back, side to side, and around in a circular, clock like motion. If all else fails, fidget. People who fidget burn several hundred more calories than those who don’t. Let the body move.