Is Sitting The New Smoking?
For most of us, our daily routines involve going to work and sitting at a desk for the majority of the day; but we counter this sedentary lifestyle by going to the gym and eating a healthy and balanced diet. All good, right? Wrong. According to recent studies in the Annals of Internal Medicine, on average, more than half of a person’s day is spent sitting, be it at a computer, in front of the television, or commuting. The study concluded that people who sat for prolonged periods of time, even those who regularly exercise, have a higher risk of dying from all causes, and those who do not exercise at all are even more negatively affected. Higher rates of type 2 diabetes, cancer, cancer-related deaths, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and a greater risk of developing dementia have all been linked to prolonged sitting. The direct correlation between sitting and declining health has not yet been identified, but research suggests that lengthy periods of sitting impedes proper sugar and fat digestion, which can lead to onset diabetes, amongst other things.
So with all these negative findings surrounding our increasingly sedentary lifestyle, what are some of the solutions? Various apps and “take the stairs” campaigns have all proven effective tools, but it is the standing desk that has become a real contender in the office environment. A new concept desk design (find it here), the standing desk is height adjustable to any home or work environment and is meant to promote increased activity, mobility and weight loss; with the longterm goal of reducing the aforementioned health conditions and creating a healthier lifestyle. Compared to sitting, you burn 30% more calories when standing, and as researchers have found, once you are up, you move. In other words, by reversing the proportion of sitting to standing, one is more likely to walk to a co-worker’s office instead of calling or sending an email, will take the stairs more often, and will be more active over the course of the day rather than simply for an hour at the gym a few times a week.
Yikes, this is certainly some compelling evidence! But what is really going on here? When sitting, the electrical activity in your body drops, meaning you are hardly engaging any muscles, your metabolism and calorie burning ability slow down, insulin levels drop and the enzyme in charge of breaking down lipids and triglycerides (fats) decreases which causes the levels of good cholesterol to decline as well. A study recently published in the journal, Circulation, analysed the behavioural patterns of over 9, 000 Australians and concluded that for each additional hour of sitting and watching television, the risk of dying rose by 11%. Interestingly, the study found that whether or not an individual was thin, obese, smoked, young, old, exercised regularly, male or female did not affect the results in any major way; rather, it was deduced that sitting is an “independent pathology”, and a sedentary way of life will ultimately lead to an increased mortality rate no matter who you are.
With this new research and the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” coming to the fore, several regular office goers have tried out the standing desk. The main response was that it takes time for your body to adjust to standing all the time. So be prepared for some mind and body resistance. We have been so conditioned to sit at a desk when we need to concentrate or work on a serious task, that many standing desk-advocates found that there was a substantial re-learning curve as they made the transition. While there are several proponents of this new desk configuration, many have pointed out the adverse effects as well. Research has also found that too much standing can lead to back, knee and foot problems, not to mention many felt that the pain of standing for extended periods of time became a real distraction to their work productivity. So it would seem that you are damned if you sit, and damned if you don’t.
What this research leads to is the very real and very contemporary problem of a society that is moving towards a more sedentary way of life. It would seem that a larger sense of inertia is slowly taking over the Western world, in that regardless of whether or not we sit or stand all day, a lifestyle of convenience is becoming the new norm. Even the smaller bouts of activity, such as going to the park, walking to and from destinations and the like, are being consumed by electronics, Ubers and home delivery. In our quest to improve our quality of life, we are losing touch with what it really means to be engaged with the world around us, so much so that we have resorted to devising the standing desk as a possible solution for our inactivity. While technology has certainly opened new doors, and uncovered avenues we never thought possible, it has come at a real cost as well. As creatures of comfort, we are hardwired to seek whatever it is that may bring us pleasure, which often leads us to watching documentaries of the natural world in the comfort of our own home, rather than going out to explore it ourselves.
Ultimately it would seem that it is the broader socio-economic structure that is starting to fail us, namely the preponderance of the cubicle style of working and a car dominated culture; both of which are isolating, disconnecting, and perpetuate the idea that we are all merely “cogs in the wheel”, especially in extreme bouts of traffic. The Scandinavian countries routinely top the charts as the happiest people in the world. This is in large part due to the fact that they are on average more active, eat a healthy diet, are legally required to take time off work, tend to be more social and yet also take time for themselves. So it would seem that before we all shell out for a standing desk, we ought to reflect on our existing lifestyle first. Maybe we should start be asking ourselves, “am I happy?” If not, what is the source of discontent? If staying at home and watching TV or reading causes untold frustration, then join a group, get outside, visit a museum! If being in large crowds and in unknown environments brings about anxiety, then find a safe space and make the most of it! We all know that an inactive lifestyle is harmful to our health, but there are many different ways of changing our sedentary habits to more active ones, just be sure to find the right one for you.
As with anything, it is often the simplest solution that is the most effective. We just have to create more opportunities to move more often, and throughout the day. Technology is definitely here to stay, so let’s harness its power for good! Here are some helpful apps that can make you get up, stand up throughout the day!