Health Chair Reform: Stand Up to Lose Weight and Live Longer

Stand to work! A standing desk may help you lose weight and live longer.

You may want to sit down stand to read this. It turns out sitting is a serious health hazard, raising the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even death. Here’s why you should stop sitting—and start standing!

Sitting can make you fat.

Sitting not only replaces calorie-burning activities (we burn one-third fewer calories sitting than standing), the enzyme lipoprotein lipase (LPL), stored in our muscles, is released upon standing, capturing and annihilating fat. When we sit, LPL activity slows way down, leaving fat in the bloodstream to accumulate. But won’t regular workouts offset sitting’s sluggish effects? Nope. Research finds it’s not how much we eat or exercise that determines weight, but how much we sit. In a Mayo Clinic study, participants followed similar health-wise diets, but obese participants sat 2.5 more hours each day. Our bodies are meant to move, and small, constant movements boost metabolism—and fight flab—the most.

Sitting strains your body.

Desk jockeys know prolonged sitting yields stiff backs and poor posture. The reason? Sitting dumps body weight onto the spine and pelvis, forcing the spine’s natural S-curve into a C-shape, which puts pressure on spinal discs. Sitting also shortens the hip flexors and weakens the glutes and hamstrings, causing back strain. Given the average eight-hour workday and other seated “activities” (e.g., eating, commuting, watching TV), it’s no wonder nearly 10% of Canadians have chronic back pain and over 60% of Canadians are overweight or obese.

As if a sore back and bigger butt aren’t enough, sitting may shorten life span, too.

A study of 17,000 Canadians, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, found that, after adjusting for factors such as smoking, age and body mass index, those who sat the most had a higher risk of mortality from all causes, including heart disease and cancer, regardless of other physical activity. Similarly, a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that women who sat more than six hours daily were 37% more likely to die, particularly from heart disease, than women who sat fewer than three hours. So, when people tell you to get off your butt, don’t be offended: they’re looking out for your health!

Five ways to sit less

To prevent “corporate butt,” my oh-so-technical term for the 9-5 posterior spread, try these stand-up tips.

  • Fidget! Putter! Notice how little kids can’t sit still, whereas adults can sit for hours? Well, the official term for the energy expended on everyday movements is nonexercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT). Research finds lean women stand, move and fidget more than heavier women, burning 300 extra calories daily.
  • Move around after eating, when blood fat levels are highest, to stimulate LPL release.
  • Stand or walk while on the phone (I use headphones) and when doing things such as sorting mail, scanning the paper/magazines/memos or chatting with colleagues. Make seated habits standing ones.
  • Get your Venti to go: sip and stroll instead of sitting.
  • Stand and stretch at least once an hour. Set your computer or phone alarm to remind yourself, or download the iPhone app Alarmed. Better back stretch: Stand and place hands on lower back (fingertips down). Gently push hips forward and arch back, gazing upward. Hold for a few moments; repeat.

Chair-free seating ideas

Listed from least to most expensive, these “seats” are better for your body.

  • $: Sitting on an exercise ball forces the body to shift and engages core muscles. Bonus: Recline over the ball for a full body stretch.
  • $: Construct a stand-up desk: place wooden bed risers or blocks under your desk, install a wall shelf or build/buy a crate, box or tiny table to put on your desk. Search the Web for DIY stand-up desk ideas, then source home improvement stores for cheap fixes.
  • $$: Place a TrekDesk or laptop holder over your treadmill. Studies show that walking at just 1-3 mph can double your metabolic rate. Work—and work out!
  • $$$: A sit-to-stand desk is pricey, but proponents say it relieves wrist and back pain and improves productivity, thereby boosting your bottom line (and your bottom!). A worthy investment, in my opinion. After all, we spend as much time sitting at a desk as we do sleeping—likely more!

Have you tried a stand-up desk? Do you have any DIY stand-up desk ideas? I recently put my laptop on a phone book on my mantle. It’s not pretty, but my back and hips are reaping the rewards!

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Posted on November 15, 2011, in Fitness, Weight loss and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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