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Standing is Worth More than Exercise

By Kevin Meyer

Regular readers know that I've been using a stand up desk for well over a year, and annoyingly take nearly every opportunity to promote the concept.  I have found that I'm far more productive, energetic, and tend to visit the gemba even more often.  Now there's new research that sitting creates even more health problems, even for those who exercise vigorously nearly every day.

When Donald Rumsfeld was US defence secretary, he did not have a chair
at his desk. “When he works, he stands,” a spokeswoman once reported.
“He’s in great shape.” Indeed, when Mr Rumsfeld read a memo in 2002
that said suspected terrorists could be made to stand for only four
hours during interrogation, he scribbled on it, presumably while
standing: “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to
four hours?” Now scientists have finally proved Mr Rumsfeld got
something right: sitting is bad for you.

It took a few weeks to get used to standing 8+ hours per day, but now it's even harder to sit.  If I'm forced to take a 2-3 hour drive it can drive me nuts.

Health researchers are always telling people to exercise. People rarely
listen: only about 5 or 6 per cent of adults in the US and UK do the
recommended half hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity a day.
Lately, however, some scientists have begun pointing out that the focus
on exercise rather ignores how people spend their other 15 or so waking
hours: mostly, sitting down. Even fitness fanatics who hit the gym at
dawn might then drive to work and sit at their desks all day, before
driving home to sit some more. Sitting, if you like, is the elephant in
the fitness room.

So what's going on if sitting is harmful even for those who exercise regularly?  It's the power of the ongoing minute "mundane movements" of those who stand.

The dangers of sitting go beyond lack of exercise. It is unclear
exactly how these processes work, but Dr Stamatakis says it seems that
prolonged sitting greatly reduces the activity of the beneficial enzyme
lipoprotein lipase. When that happens, risk of heart disease rises.

used to understand why some people became fat even when they exercised
and ate just as much as others who stayed lean. But that was before
scientists began studying the mundane daily movements that fall short
of actual exercise. When they looked at these movements, it turned out
that fatter people generally sat more and stood less than thin ones.
Professor Levine and others found that the lean people in their study
spent 150 minutes more per day doing some sort of movements than did
the obese ones. Any changes in these mundane movements “directly
predicted resistance to fat gain with overfeeding”, the team wrote.

So what's the prognosis?

Now some scientists are calling for health warnings against chairs.
“The dire concern for the future,” write Professor Hamilton and
colleagues, “may rest with growing numbers of people unaware of the
potential insidious dangers of sitting too much.” Perhaps desk-workers
should be urged to stand while on the phone
, or to stand for a few minutes every hour, like the “seventh-inning
stretch” at baseball games.

Good advice.  Now to get back to looking for a treadmill to go under my desk.  It's time to take it up a notch.

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13 Responses to "Standing is Worth More than Exercise"

  • df
    24 January 2010 - 10:05 am

    Kevin, do you wear compression stockings with your new work style?

  • JM
    25 January 2010 - 8:21 am

    Kevin, do you stand on any type of ergonomic floor mat at your desk?

  • Kevin
    25 January 2010 - 8:45 am

    Jason- I don’t use a floor mat as the change to standing also made me start walking around a lot more, but several other people here do have a cushy floor mat. The most critical thing to have is a small stool, perhaps 6″ high, for one foot. Makes all the difference in the world.

  • Martin B
    25 January 2010 - 12:02 pm

    I have a back problem so I got myself a kneeler chair ten years ago. It’s wonderful for my back, but I am overweight. Probably because the big muscles below the waist don’t do any work.

  • Dan Jones
    25 January 2010 - 9:22 pm

    I have been testing the stand up desk for one week now. I have found that I seem more approachable to my employees and more engaged in their work. The inertia of getting up and out of a chair is non existent. I did sit down to eat lunch the other day and my sceptical peers gave me a hard time for taking a seat. I just hope it isn’t standardized by upper management…then I will have a lot of enemies.

  • Shannon K.
    26 January 2010 - 6:16 am

    Don’t bother with the treadmill. Grab a balance board and get to wobbling. Good light cardio, good for the legs, great for physical balance.

  • Emmer
    26 January 2010 - 8:05 am

    Even more important than whether you sit or stand at your desk is the location of the desk. Is it at the gemba or in an isolated office somewhere? The best managers I worked for always moved their desks out to the plant floor and worked from there.

  • Kevin
    26 January 2010 - 8:32 am

    Emmer- That’s an interesting one. We’re building a new large manufacturing facility and debated for months whether the “value stream managers” should be on the shop floor or in a separate upstairs area. Originally the thought was that everyone should be on the floor as you mentioned. However we did some tests and analysis in our current buildings and realized that having them on or close to the floor actually hindered the development of supervisors and leads, with an additional problem that the VSM’s were focused on the day-to-day instead of long-term strategic improvements.

    So modeled a new process of having the VSM’s and entire executive staff separated (temporarily in trailers), but also improved their accountability for gemba walks and standard work. We also require that they go to the floor, and the floor folks don’t go and see them (not a hard rule, but a desire). This has worked very very well, with supervisors and leads learning and gaining confidence especially after gemba walks provide mentoring, and also the executive staff has greatly improved communication and coordination among themselves by being co-located.

  • Emmer
    26 January 2010 - 2:48 pm

    That appears to be a good plan, Kevin. I hope it works out as you wish. You seem to have taken a lot of care in selecting your managerial and supervisory staff for the right qualities.

  • Michelle Judd
    27 January 2010 - 7:24 am

    One thing to think about, computer carts that have sit-stand capability. Allows you to choose how much you sit or stand each day, and it’s mobile, so mgmt can take their system wherever they need it, roll from an office to the mfg floor.

  • Frederik Jurk
    27 February 2010 - 5:13 pm

    First of all, thank you so much for your inspiring and passionate blog posts on this matter. I stumbled across the study you linked here a couple of days ago and since I always love to try radical new ideas that change my daily routine I went ahead and make my own kinda ghetto stand-up desk:


    On my first day I was still in the “I´m never going to pull this through” phase. It´s stunning how most of us have this built-in nagging that makes us shy away from conventions. Now I´m on my second day and while it´s pretty rough on my muscles, feeling my body adapt to these “new” tasks is wonderful.

    I´ve been suffering from pretty severe neck and shoulder tension and pains (whenever I pull my shoulders back there´s these clearly audible popping and cracking sounds, my shoulders are that tense!) and even only after my second day I can feel my whole body release these tensions I´ve been carrying with me all these years. It´s going to save me from quite a lot of painkillers, not to mention the increase in concentration, energy and productivity.

    Sorry, I´m rambling, but it´s such a simple solution to such a severe and widespread problem. It almost sounds to good to be true, and if there was some kind of pill or expensive gear involved I would have cast it aside as a scam. By the way, I really love the makeshift solutions a lot of people come up with, the whole DIY aspect of this makes it even sweeter.

    Again, thanks a lot for spreading the word!

    Frederik from Hamburg/Germany, so please excuse any typos ;)

  • Frederik Jurk
    27 February 2010 - 5:16 pm

    Sorry, it´s supposed to be “makes us stick to conventions” instead of “shy away”. I shouldn´t post when I´m tired!

  • mig welder cart
    17 August 2010 - 3:24 am

    Wow, great article! Definitely changes my whole attitude toward exercise; sitting for 90-95% of your waking hours can be counterproductive to my workouts, never would’ve occured to me.

    Thanks for this article.