"People who sit too much shave a few years off of their lives," so stand up!

For the past half year — since reading articles showing a scary relationship between time spent sitting and death rates (after controlling for many factors, including body mass and time spent exercising) — I’ve mostly worked standing up. I wish I had a fancy desk that could easily move up and down. But I’ve found that placing a 56-quart plastic container underneath my laptop provides an adequate surface for my computer and mouse and is about the right height for a standing desk. (Use an empty container so that when you want to take a break, you can pull out the container and sit.)

A new New York Times article describes new scientific research findings demonstrating that sitting down a lot is very bad for our health:

In studies of rats who were forced to be inactive, for example, he discovered that the leg muscles responsible for standing almost immediately lost more than 75 percent of their ability to remove harmful lipo-proteins from the blood. To show that the ill effects of sitting could have a rapid onset in humans too, Hamilton recruited 14 young, fit and thin volunteers and recorded a 40 percent reduction in insulin’s ability to uptake glucose in the subjects — after 24 hours of being sedentary.

Over a lifetime, the unhealthful effects of sitting add up. Alpa Patel, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, tracked the health of 123,000 Americans between 1992 and 2006. The men in the study who spent six hours or more per day of their leisure time sitting had an overall death rate that was about 20 percent higher than the men who sat for three hours or less. The death rate for women who sat for more than six hours a day was about 40 percent higher. Patel estimates that on average, people who sit too much shave a few years off of their lives.

Another study, published last year in the journal Circulation, looked at nearly 9,000 Australians and found that for each additional hour of television a person sat and watched per day, the risk of dying rose by 11 percent. The study author David Dunstan wanted to analyze whether the people who sat watching television had other unhealthful habits that caused them to die sooner. But after crunching the numbers, he reported that “age, sex, education, smoking, hypertension, waist circumference, body-mass index, glucose tolerance status and leisure-time exercise did not significantly modify the associations between television viewing and all-cause … mortality.”

Sitting, it would seem, is an independent pathology. Being sedentary for nine hours a day at the office is bad for your health whether you go home and watch television afterward or hit the gym. It is bad whether you are morbidly obese or marathon-runner thin. “Excessive sitting,” Dr. Levine says, “is a lethal activity.”

So, stand up! Running, walking, cycling, and swimming are all wonderful for your body. But don’t spend the rest of your day and evening sitting at work and sitting in front of a computer or television screen because science has now shown that this is very bad for your body. Try working while standing up, at least a little every day. I’ve grown to love it.

Posted by James on Friday, April 15, 2011