April 20, 2010

You better (not) be sitting down when you read this.

Update: “Obesity expert says daily workouts can’t undo damage done from sitting all day.”

“Beware your Chair”

If you are sitting when you work, you have an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers + an early death.


Want to keep your metabolism and brain turn on. Sing Stand while you work.

What do Sir Winston Churchill, Bobby Soderstrom, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Jefferson, Donald Rumsfeld, Vladimir Nabakov, Ben Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci and Treehugger founder Graham Hill have in common?

They all worked, standing up. I’ve now joined the ranks, at least half-time—there’s plenty of problems associated with being on your feet, too much, so I split my time between my eco desk and, seriously, standing in my stairwell with my laptop perched, a bit precariously, on top of a bannister.

Via Treehugger:

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety suggests that working in a standing position can cause health problems of its own.

“Working in a standing position on a regular basis can cause sore feet, swelling of the legs, varicose veins, general muscular fatigue, low back pain, stiffness in the neck and shoulders, and other health problems. These are common complaints among sales people, machine operators, assembly-line workers and others whose jobs require prolonged standing.”…But most knowledge workers don’t have to stand in one position all day. Jamis at 37 Signals says it gives him greater clarity of thought.


Excerpts via the NY Times:

…[even among] healthy people who exercise regularly, those who sit the most during the rest of the day have larger waists and worse profiles of blood pressure and blood sugar than those who sit less…

…sitting is one of the most passive things you can do. You burn more energy by chewing gum or fidgeting than you do sitting still in a chair. Compared to sitting, standing in one place is hard work. To stand, you have to tense your leg muscles, and engage the muscles of your back and shoulders; while standing, you often shift from leg to leg. All of this burns energy…

…when you sit, a crucial part of your metabolism slows down…

And so, that rare article I read, and share on elephant, that changes my own habits. I’m a standing man, from here on out.

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Lori Bell Apr 23, 2013 12:55pm

I started sitting on an adjustable, cushioned chair with No Back and No Arms when I was doing production-line sewing manufacturing almost 20 years ago. I have a slight, congenital, curvature of my spine at my shoulder blades and that is where my back will start to hurt when it gets overworked. After about two weeks on the backless/armless chair, my back pain went away and I continued to sit on similar chairs after that – i.e. adjustable, no back, no arms (i.e. usually just the padded base of a typical office chair).

When I relocated to Colorado, I started sewing from home and used my housemate's office chair with a back on it for the first couple of days. And then I started to get lower back pain and realized…I was letting my back relax into the back of the chair thus putting pressure on my lower back. So, off it came. As did the arms and backs of every office chair that followed wherever I worked, even while I was on board a Navy aircraft carrier for three-and-a-half years..

About six years ago, I started sitting on an appropriately sized/inflated exercise ball at work. All day long. It became a running joke that I was "Always on the ball!" I liked the added factor of balancing and using more of my oblique muscles as I reached for file drawers below and behind me.

Now, even though I am still doing a lot of sitting, I naturally sit very straight, with or without a back on the chair. (If there is a back, I usually sit so that my back is not actually touching it.) And, I'd say my abdominal muscles are in pretty good condition, even though I never do sit-ups or anything else. When I sit, I simply sit up straight. And, after nearly 20 years, I think I stick to that!

dslyoga Apr 21, 2013 6:19pm

It seems clear that standing or sitting for too long a time can be a problem. The overall lesson is the human body needs to MOVE as much as possible. Stagnation makes you … stagnant! Maybe going back and forth from sitting to standing work spaces for different kinds of tasks would be a good strategy.

One of the most successful advertising copy writers & gurus in the 20th Century, Eugene Schwartz, used to set a timer for 33 minutes and 33 seconds. He said that no matter what he was doing, even if in the middle of the Greatest Sentence in History, he would get up from his typewriter (or word processor) and go do something else. Take a break. Then he sat down and reset the time again for 33:33.

He didn't give much more detail than that, unfortunately, but I suspect for most people, just getting up and walking randomly or aimlessly around for five minutes would make a big difference. Every hour would be good, every 30 minutes much better. And it does not have to be all that vigorous.

Schwartz is also the guy who wrote a lot of VERY successful copy for products in alternative healing, meditation, and such stuff, including Dr. Stephen T. Chang’s “The Book of Internal Exercises” a book on Oriental healing methods. I often wonder if Schwartz did not get the 33:33 idea from some Eastern Mystical Master??? Maybe Chang?

Anyway, the idea is, whether you are sitting or standing at your desk, you NEED to get up and move around, or do some yoga, or chair yoga, or tai chi, or whatever, to get things moving. … I have my own ideas of what muscles are most important to get relaxed and lengthened, but that's an entire article in itself.

In my early teens I was doing martial arts and motocross. Then I started adult life as an ironworker (very heavy construction), then went to teaching yoga in my early 20s. Then became a structural bodyworker. Each step getting less physically active, as you can see. The last few years I've spent a LOT of time at a computer, trying to get my brain downloaded to the hard drive and internet.

Sitting still for such long times has taken it's toll, way more than I would have realized, and I've got direct experience as to what can happen when you get to "head (mind)" oriented and away from the body too much. I'm trying now to work my way back to a better balance.

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Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: “the mindful life” beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, touches on modern relationships from a Buddhist point of view. His dream of 9 years, the Elephant “Ecosystem” will find a way to pay 1,000s of writers a month, helping reverse the tide of low-quality, unpaid writing & reading for free online.