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.