Is Sitting Really the Biggest Threat to Your Health?

Every few years, there is a new trend in ergonomics.  It usually involves a type of product or piece of equipment meant to solve a current popular injury diagnosis.  Often, it's simply marketing by a company who wants to increase sales of a new product, so they identify a new "problem" that their product can solve.  Some of these trends have merit, but many are only really necessary for a small segment of the workforce.  And some, when used incorrectly, set people up for new discomfort and/or injuries.

Over the years, these trends have included trackball mice, sitting on therapy balls instead of chairs, chairs made from mesh instead of fabric and foam, vertical keyboards, kneeling chairs, and many more.

The current trend in office ergonomics is standing desks.  While the idea of standing at work (or alternating between sitting and standing) is not a new concept, the idea seems to have just exploded recently.  It seems that everywhere I look, I see an article or a professional seminar with some variation of the "Sitting is Killing You" and/or "Sitting is the New Smoking" theme.  And manufacturers are scrambling to create products that allow workers to change positions at their desks. 

But is sitting really that bad for you?  And do you need a standing desk at work?

In my opinion, the answer isn't a simple yes or no.  I think that the sitting issue is one aspect of the bigger problem of why most people are not as healthy as they could be.  But for now, let's focus on sitting. 

It's true that we have become a very sedentary society.  We sit at work.  We sit in our cars on our way to and from work.  We sit in front of the TV when we get home from work.  Our bodies weren't designed to sit for the majority of our waking hours.  The amount of time we spend being sedentary has definitely contributed to our nation's biggest health issues (obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc.).

But I don't think that sitting on its own is what is causing our nation's declining health.  It’s sitting instead of moving combined with what we're doing while sitting (i.e. eating a bacon cheeseburger and drinking a soda while in front of the TV) that are the problems.  It's the average person's overall lifestyle that is the issue.

Many people think that as long as they go to the gym for an hour or so on most days of the week, it doesn't matter how inactive they are for the rest of the day.  The research shows that it doesn't work that way.  It's actually healthier and more effective to build activity and movement in to your day with lifestyle changes than to have one hour a day of intensive activity and an otherwise sedentary lifestyle.

So what about standing desks?  There are times when an adjustable-height desk is medically indicated to accommodate an injury or physical limitation.  And there are certainly jobs that require you to be at your desk for most or all of the day.  In those situations, a desk that allows you to alternate between sitting and standing makes sense.  And there are plenty of products to choose from. 

For everyone else:  The health benefits of standing and walking are numerous and well documented in the medical research literature.  Standing burns more calories than sitting and is less compressive to the spine, in addition to improving circulation.  So in an ideal world, every employee would have the option of a more active and dynamic work environment to optimize their health and reduce the risk of injuries.

Transitioning to standing desks is not financially feasible for all employers and not practical for all work environments.  The product options (and accompanying price points) are expanding, but as with all ergonomic products, many of them are better in the marketing materials than in reality.

And just as with any ergonomic intervention, a piece of equipment can't make up for an unhealthy lifestyle.  So using a standing desk but continuing to smoke and eat poorly isn't really going to put you farther ahead, health-wise.

So if you can't or don't want to spend the money on a standing desk, all hope is not lost.  Changing your activity level in general is what is going to make the bigger difference in your health.  Building more movement into your daily life and eating a healthier diet is really the solution.   

It's not sitting that is killing you, it's an overall unhealthy lifestyle.

Making positive lifestyle changes can give you impressive results and improve your overall health but it can be overwhelming and hard to know where to start.  If you have questions or need support in making changes, I'm here to help with health coaching services, plant-based nutrition classes, and ergonomic assessments for the office and kitchen!

Let's stay connected!  Join me on the blue water holistic health Facebook page.  And subscribe with your email (which I will never share with anyone) to receive posts in your inbox twice a month!