What’s a Body to Do?
Over the past few years, the advice on whether to sit or stand at work has been as hard to follow as the back-and-forth in a presidential debate.
Don’t sit or you’re sure to die!
Seriously, you must stand up all day long.
No, that’s wrong. Standing all day is bad for you, too!
Actually, sitting is not that terrible. You just need to exercise.
Hold on. Exercise may not be enough either.
You’re probably scratching your head trying to figure out which headline is most truthful. Sorting through the advice on healthy work habits is a challenge. But, believe it or not, there is consensus among the conflict.
The problem with the health advice as presented in short news clips is that the advice tries to be black and white. Attention grabbing headlines like “No, You Don’t Need to Drink 8 Glass of Water” or “Flossing Your Teeth is Worthless” can make you feel like everything you do is wrong. In response to contradictory health advice, many people throw up their hands and just say, “Forget it!” I know because I have been there.
I thought squeezing exercise into my hectic work schedule would make up for having to sit at work for the rest of day. Then when I read that exercise was not enough to counteract sitting, I felt so frustrated. You mean that I could have been sleeping instead lugging myself to the gym in the wee hours of the morning? For a little while, I did throw up my hands and give up. I took the advice of a black-and-white headlines at face value when I should have dug deeper.
Looking for the Gray
Like many things in life, the truth among the black-and-white headlines lies somewhere in between. If you look closely enough, you’ll see the gray area between the black and white. The first thing you see when you get into the gray is that research clearly supports the conclusion that sitting for long periods of time is bad news. If you’re like the average adult, you spend over 9 hours a day sitting. Between email, Netflix, and long commutes, our days are filled with reasons to sit.
According to Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic, in the past 15 years, there have been over 10,000 scientific studies on the health effects of sedentary lifestyle. As a result of these studies, Dr. Levine concludes that “[l]eading experts agree that sitting actually causes more ill health effects than smoking.” In other research, prolonged sitting has been associated with higher risk of liver disease, certain cancers, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, blood clots, and metabolic disorder, among others. You would be hard pressed to find a doctor anywhere who would recommend sitting around all day as a healthy lifestyle.
When we learn that something is not good for us, it’s easy to assume that the opposite is good. So if sitting is not a healthy way to spend the day, then we should just stand, right? Well, not exactly. While standing has benefits over sitting, standing can be a very sedentary act, often involving no movement. Not moving has negative health effects, whether you do it while sitting or standing.
The best approach then is not to sit or stand all day, but instead to move regularly. Stand, walk, perch, stretch and - yes - even sit. The research makes clear that if you want to stay strong, energized and healthy, then you need to get moving. You don’t want to trade a day spent in one static position for a day spent in a different static position. Instead you want to trade a day full of inactivity for one full of movement. When you incorporate movement - even small, subtle movements - into your day, then you can start to combat the negative effects of our chair culture.
To put these research findings into action, you just need to shift your mindset. Develop the habit of asking yourself when last time was that you moved. Regular movement throughout the day add up to a positive impact, especially compared to sitting still in a chair for hours. Some research even has found that natural movements are more beneficial than structured exercise.
Once you start looking for them, you’ll be surprised how many ways there are to sneak in more standing, walking, leaning, and other types of postures. When you do, your body can start to reward you with fewer aches and pains, more energy, and even greater productivity.
Who knew that seeing gray could make you feel so much better.