Our buttocks should come with wrapped in a warning: “Sitting kills,” for dramatic affect, or “Sitting may cause obesity, diabetes, and heart disease” for those who need more concrete explanations. But is sitting really the new smoking? While sitting is not quite the veiled death wish that smoking fulfills, there is something to the “sitting disease” buzz. Several recent studies have found that the more hours that people spend sitting, the more likely they are to develop diabetes, heart disease and other conditions—even if they exercise regularly.
The fact that exercise and standing are two separate things intrigues scientists.
Some scientists question whether merely standing simply replaces one type of sedentariness with another. But one recent study demonstrates that standing itself, as separate from more vigorous exercise, may be sufficient to extend one’s life. Using a large database of self-reported information about physical activity among Canadian adults, Peter Katzmarzyk, a professor of public health at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., and an expert on sedentary behavior, found that mortality rates declined at higher levels of standing.
Here’s what prolonged sitting does to us. It breaks down the body’s metabolic system, which can trigger a cascade of health ills and discomforts. And you may think you do not sit excessively—but then, you may be in denial. Even if you are a dedicated gym rat, an hour or two of concentrated exercise is apparently not enough to counteract the effects of sitting up to 12 hours a day. Plus, most people sleep for at least seven hours, which makes for a whopping 19 hours of bum rest.
Scientifically speaking, sitting shortens our telomere length—telomeres are the tiny caps on the ends of DNA strands—while standing may lengthen it.
Brief bouts of exercise seem not to have a big impact on telomere length, but standing each day does. Dr Mike Loosemore, a leading sport medicine consultant, encourages people to incorporate more standing into their daily activity. His claim? Being on your feet for three hours, five days a week, is as effective as running ten marathons a year and can extend life by two years. Yes, three hours may seem like a lifetime on your feet. Try starting with a more moderate goal: increasing your standing time for about one hour a day.
So how do you start standing up for yourself?
The standing desk trend is one of the most practical ways to get on up, but before you invest in new equipment, check out these tips, courtesy of juststand.org, for ways of easing into a more upright lifestyle.
Ways to Stand More
–Walk more at work: Park your car farther away from your building; use stairs not elevators; take a long route to the restroom or mail room.
–While computing, set a timer to remind you to stand up and stretch every half hour; take this time to pick-up and clean your work area.
–Stand up when you talk on the phone.
–Don’t send emails if the recipient is near; walk over and talk to him or her.
–Avoid long sitting commutes by standing on the bus, subway or train.
–When watching TV, lose the remote; get up to change the channels.
–Stand or exercise while you watch TV, or just stand and move around during pesky commercial breaks.
–During intense gaming, stand up in between sessions and screen loads.