Take a Stand for Your Health

by Katie on February 6, 2013

Why are you doing this to yourself?

Recently the internet has been abuzz with information about how sitting down is killing us slowly.  Certainly a scary proposition given that a growing number of adults and kids spend their days staring into the glowing abyss of the computer screen. But how can we not? I know as a graduate student that anything other than working all the time seems downright unimaginable

Sure we know that  sedentary lifestyles are linked to increased risk of obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and cardiovascular disease but the real kicker is that recent studies show that exercising does not undo a sedentary day! Researchers have been proposing the concept of ‘Inactivity Physiology.  That is to say that the processes in our bodies controlled by exercise are separate from the processes that are tuned in to you general non-exercise activity level. For the purpose of this article, exercise is planned physical activity undertaken with the intent to improve or maintain physical fitness. On the other hand, non-exercise activity (also referred to as NEAT, which we have seen on MTSG before) is all the activity that is not exercise. Walking up the stairs, pacing while on the phone, standing on the bus are all examples of NEAT.

Take a stand on the phone.

So we know the answer to increasing our activity levels without having to exercise a lot is to increase NEAT activities but not all of us can walk to work or take frequent breaks during the day. So where does that leave us? Well, some people have decided to take a stand.

NEAT at Work?

NEAT-inducing workstations have become a popular area of research. Many studies have examined interventions to reduce obesity in the workforce by increasing how many calories employees burn in the office. However, the most effective solutions involve walking, pedaling, or climbing during the work day. This can be distracting  so many researchers are taking a look back into history to the once popular standing workstation. It may seem odd to stand while working in our modern world where we have the convenience of an array of padded, comfy office chairs but at one point standing desks were attributed to creative workers and revolutionary thinkers. Thomas Jefferson stood while working, so did Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemmingway. In fact, I’m standing now as I write this post!

So now you say to yourself, I don’t want to sit all day but I’m not sure I can work while standing… why do people want to stand at their desks in the first place? Good question!

To keep a healthy weight

  • Unlike increasing exercise, which often increases appetite, NEAT burns extra calories without making you want to reach for more food.
  • Studies show that people who stand while working burn enough extra calories to stave off the gradual weight gain associated with sitting. Over a lifetime preventing gradual weight gain can help prevent a host of chronic diseases too!

To increase energy and creativity

  • Sitting for prolonged periods decreases the electrical activity in your legs and sends signals to your body that the metabolism can slow down. Basically, your body is gearing up for rest right when you decide its time to get to work!
  • Quite literally, standing gets your juices flowing! Keeping your muscles engaged boosts your circulatory system and blood flow to the brain which increases focus.
  • Also the ability to walk away from your desk very easily makes it more likely that you will take micro-breaks which are associated with great focus, intense concentration and creativity at work

To improve posture and ease back pain

  • Unless you have a super ergonomically designed chair, sitting down all day can really misalign your back. We hunch over, cross our legs, or maybe even rest our head on the desk. When you are standing, however, everything is where it should be. A proper standing desk should allow you to rest your forearms on the desktop with your elbows at a roughly 90 degree angle.

To add years (years!) to your life.

  • Cutting back on quality time with your desk chair and La-Z-Boy may increase your life expectancy by 2 years. What would you do with that time?
  • Adults who are less sedentary have lower expected mortality rates from common diagnoses such as cardiovascular disease and Type 2 Diabetes. In fact, sedentary behavior impacts insulin levels and certain hormonal controls of metabolism.

To join the ranks of our forefathers

  • Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, and Ernest Hemmingway all used standing workstations
  • Since as early as 1899 it had been “repeatedly suggested that even with the proper kind of desk, much sitting is liable to injure”

NEAT Without Standing

Now all of this is well and good but it should be known that this isn’t the best for everyone. Standing at work increases

Looks funny, feels great!

complications from varicose veins and can aggravate some back conditions. Besides, even though they exist in many forms from fully adjustable ergonomic masterpieces, to, well, my desk is propped up on cinder blocks, such workstations are a bit cumbersome and sometimes expensive.

But there are other options! Enter, the office desk exercise ball or, for the hardcore among us, the treadmill work station! However, the easiest way to start getting more NEAT activity today is to get up from your desk to walk around at least once an hour. Take a conference call while pacing the room or use the restroom on a different floor so you take the stairs. Setting a timer can help serve as a reminder to move.

Just remember to take just a few minutes every hour to stand up for your health!


David Reedy February 6, 2013 at 12:51 pm

Well written. At our senior center during a course on fall prevention and balance improvement we learned that walking while talking on the cell phone is good for your balance, and you should switch the phone from ear to ear to help improve total balance.

Joe Muir February 6, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Very informative. I obviously should change my habits as I do sit quite a bit and exercise of any form is rare. Standing more is a great idea!

Adam February 6, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Great topic! I am so in favor of NEAT living.
How do we get schools of public health to take the stand (literally) to incorporate into classroom learning?

Margaret Freaney February 6, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Good first topic. I can hardly ever stand still, so my laptop is always being moved from counter top, to lap, to table, to desk. Now I can tell people I am doing it to be healthy and not because I get distracted easily. One note, you mention the famous people who stood while working in two places in your article. You might want to put that in the why section.

Thanks for the article,

Andrew February 6, 2013 at 9:14 pm

This is a great topic. Several jobs I’ve had over the past 2 years have required standing for long periods during the work day. It is amazing what a difference it can make in maintaining energy levels and focus throughout the day.

If you are going to incorporate NEAT into your life, make sure you have a pair of comfortable shoes with good support. Standing at your work station or walking more than normal can be a real pain if your feet are constantly aching. It is incredibly easy to get by with uncomfortable footwear when you spend most of the day sitting.

Lindsay February 6, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Very interesting. I remember reading some statistics about how much we sit and how “bad” it is for us. And yet, even in our School of Public Health, we go to some classes and *sit* for three hours. Oh, the irony!

I can imagine one of the barriers that people face with regards to these activities is financial. I’m not sure if workplaces would provide funding for a stability ball or stand-up desk or under-desk foot peddler. Especially in companies or organizations with few resources to begin with, providing these activity-enhancing alternatives might not be an option. However, I definitely think taking a “long walk” to the bathroom is a great and cost-effective strategy.

Thanks for the post, and good luck blogging!

Alex February 7, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Great blog post! I feel the need to get up and move away from my desk! I really liked how you addressed that a standing desk might not be for everyone and provided information on other options like exercise balls. It’s a nice way to structure a post and I might try and do something similar.

Keep up the good work!

Gaythia Weis February 7, 2013 at 11:35 pm

Great post! The message has impact as it makes me feel torn. Write a comment or get up and stretch?

R&B February 8, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Great title, subject matter, and final punch line. Comprehensive and well written article that, most importantly, stimulates reader self examination.
Incidentally, on a more contemporary note, Donald Rumsfeld (former two time Secretary of Defense) is a well known stand up desk user.

Virginia Levin February 11, 2013 at 12:05 pm

Clever to insert “MTSG” forcing me to check it out. Enjoyed another of your excellent blog posts. I could not determine if there were an English translation of the German book written in 1889. “Stand up to the task at hand “would make a good poster or mantra inspired by your excellent blog post.

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