An empty office chair may be good for your health.

As Americans, more so than anyone else in the industrialized world, we literally sit for most of our lives. And many medical professionals are now calling sitting “the new smoking.”  Even a little is bad.

Sitting our days away has become the reality only recently, in the past half-century. The mechanization of a million household and business functions morphed into the high-tech revolution to create the perfect storm of sedentary lifestyle.

Compared even to our grandparents’ generation, we are virtually immobile. Very few of us today require much movement to do our jobs—we’re not walking, running, lifting, chopping wood, carrying water, hunting/gathering (unless the sale at Barney’s counts), or doing any physical work as part of each day. Most of us now experience what is called “SVS”—Silicon Valley Syndrome. We have become a culture of floating heads.

The problem is, our bodies are not made for sitting, so I’m in favor of moving and standing more. Of course, active daily exercise is also a good thing, and we all need more of it. But science now is suggesting that simply standing instead of sitting can have powerful health benefits.

In the “MAD MEN” era, people joked about “secretary spread”, but a plush bottom may be the least dangerous effect of sitting 60+ hours per week (the average in America).

Why is sitting so bad?

  • Chronic sitting (8-10 + hours a day) shuts down the metabolism
  • Sitting can lead to insulin resistance, which can contribute to diabetes
  • Sitting suppresses an enzyme, Lipoprotein Lipase, which converts “bad” cholesterol into good cholesterol
  • Wonder why your back and neck hurt after a day at your desk? Sitting can cause a degree of (reversible, thank goodness!) atrophy, tightening and overstretching some muscles, ligaments and tendons.
  • Sitting suppresses a gene, Lipid Phosphate Phosphtase-1 (LPP1) which prevents blood-clotting and inflammation
  • Sitting reduces circulation, which means that fewer feel-good endorphins reach your brain. This may lead to depression and lowered energy

The other bad news is that exercising an hour a day does not offset the potential dangers of a lifetime of chronic sitting, in terms of heart disease, diabetes and, um, early death.

The good news is that you can literally stand on your own two feet and reverse this trend. Now. Stand and read the paper in the morning (or stand and watch the “Today” show as you dress for work). Stand and converse with associates when you eat lunch. Stand instead of sitting during meetings. Stand when you take calls.  Of course, try to get a walk in midday and whenever you can, but this message is more about standing than working out.

Presuming that you sit at a computer for a lot of the day (and possibly evening), train yourself to stand, stretch and breathe deeply every 30 minutes. Stand for 10 minutes while you do something else, like drink a glass of water, organize something, or pet your dog! Frequent changes in posture and frequent breaks from the “keyboard crouch” can reduce some of the risks outlined above.

And check your footwear. If you’re wearing killer heels at the office, okay, just make sure that they don’t prevent comfortable standing. Stretching and correctly fitting orthotics can make even the most unforgiving pair of stilettos compatible with life on your feet.


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