Are You Sitting Yourself To Death?

Blood Pressure

The launch of Dr Kelly Starrett’s book Deskbound – Standing Up for the Sitting World has radically changed the way I look at the act of sitting. Although I have always conveyed a strong message of moving purposefully, this book has stimulated my knowledge and understanding of the ever-growing problem of inactivity.

Within the book there are three recommendations that I believe Starrett has got completely right and that could help the general problems that come with too much inactivity (maintaining the same posture for too long – sitting or standing):

1)Reduce optional sitting in your life.

2). If you must sit, move every 30 minutes for 2 minutes.

3). Perform 10–15 minutes daily maintenance on your body.

(Starrett K, 2016)

So, what does this mean? 

Obviously, the following does not apply to everyone – if this is nothing like your typical day, I apologise in advance. However, this is a typical sedentary day for many people.

Picture yourself waking up in the morning. After you have been to the toilet (2-5 minutes of sitting), you go down the stairs to sit and eat breakfast (10-15 minutes of sitting), you drive to work (30 minutes of sitting) you get to work and sit in the coffee room with colleagues (10 minutes of sitting).

Then you sit at work for around 10 hours (depending what job you do). You drive home (30 minutes of sitting), get in, and sit down in front of the TV to have dinner. You stay there until you go to bed.

Sound familiar?

How can we reduce the huge proportion of our days we spend sitting?

Picture this: You are at work.

You are sitting at your desk because your employer doesn’t want to promote standing desks; they have come up with some poor excuse like ‘it costs too much to change the desks’. (They have not realised that it could cost them more in the long run if you end up off work with a musculoskeletal condition due to inactivity.)

Nevertheless, every 60 minutes you pull away from your desk, sit into a deep squat, then transfer into a deep lunge with some rotation (picture some sort of yoga pose) and end with a plank position.

This takes less than 3 minutes, and then you get straight back into what you were doing – except you are completely revitalised and have both mobile hips and a lively core.

What a wonderful world it would be if this was a normal part of office culture!

This is where Lifelong Movements steps in.

Here is a little exercise: add up all the time you spend looking on social media, watching TV, or even just procrastinating. Done it? What is your total? (A little tip for those with Apple devices – you can check which apps you use the most and for how long in a 24-hour period – it is pretty shocking to learn how much time you actually spend checking social media).

Now, contemplate the fact that spending just 10–15 minutes of this time on some very beneficial postures (squat, lunge etc.) could make all the difference in terms of reducing your disability in older age.

Maintaining your squat for the rest of your life is, in my opinion, not just a matter of physical ability – it is a matter of independence.

What’s happening to promote standing desks?

I have already mentioned the Starrett family in this and previous posts. I think it makes perfect sense to highlight the great work they are doing over in the US. StandUp Kidsis a charity across the pond that supports schools in becoming standing desk ambassadors (StandUp Kids, 2016).

Dr Mark Benden of Texas A&M University conducted a study over two years with 500 school children aged 5–10 years old. It measured children’s energy expenditure and classroom engagement.

Normal weight kids (measured by BMI – Body Mass Index) were burning 15–25% more calories when standing at a desk as opposed to sitting. Obese children burned even more, and stats showed 25-35% in energy expenditure.

Classroom engagement increased by 12%. This is too much to ignore.

These facts were the catalyst for the Starretts to start advocating standing desks in all schools. Entrepreneurs such as Tim Ferriss and Crowdfunding schemes were the main source of funding to start with, but now schools all over the US are now applying for funding through the charity.

What’s happening in the UK?

There have been press reports that some schools (five so far) have started to give the option of standing desks in an attempt to create the benefits of increasing children’s engagement and reducing their BMI (Iain Burns, 2017).

Get Britain Standingis the charity over here in the UK that has a clear message of getting more people in the service industry (mainly sedentary job roles) working at standing desks.

The charity has some hard-hitting facts related to sitting for too long. Its website (www.getbritainstanding.org) indicates that British people sit on average for nearly 9 hours per day. More than 4 hours of sitting each day leads to:

1). Enzymes responsible for burning harmful blood fats shutting down.

2). Reduced metabolic rate (energy burning).

3). Disrupted blood sugar.

4). Increased insulin and blood pressure levels.

5). Leg muscles switching off.

6). Increased risk of various conditions, including heart disease, depression, back pain, obesity, diabetes and dementia.

This alone should be enough to make us start evaluating the amount of time we spend being inactive – whether standing or sitting.

Is standing just as bad as sitting?

So, is standing the solution? Or can too much standing create problems in different ways?

A study conducted over in Canada followed 7,300 workers aged 35–74. The main findings of the study found that those standing whilst working had increased risk of heart disease (Smith et al, 2017). Although the study had its limitations (as with most studies), it is still thought-provoking.

Take-home message

Getting more people on their feet and being active is a multifaceted problem. It will take all sorts of innovative ideas to reach more people with these messages and increase general activity levels.

Whether it is through standing desks or through moving every 30 minutes, the main message here is ‘MOVE’.