Not too long ago I had to build a contraption on my desk so I could stand while I wrote instead of sitting — my neck and back were getting tense and sore and stiff so I built the contraption and all my symptoms went away. Now I discover from this UK study that it’s actually healthier, too.
Guess how many hours a day you spend sitting? Fewer than eight? More than 10? A recent survey found that many of us spend up to 12 hours a day sitting on our bottoms looking at computers or watching television. If you throw in the seven hours we spend sleeping then that adds up to a remarkable 19 hours a day being sedentary.
Sitting down as much as this is clearly bad for us and some studies suggest that those who sit all day live around two years less than those who are more active. Most of us are guilty of excess sitting. We sit at work, in the car and at home, moving only to shift from one seat to another.
Even if you exercise on a regular basis that may not be enough. There is mounting evidence that exercise will not undo the damage done by prolonged sitting. Our technology has made us the most sedentary humans in history.
So why is sitting so damaging? One thing it does is change the way our bodies deal with sugar. When you eat, your body breaks down the food into glucose, which is then transported in the blood to other cells….
Now that doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up to about 50 calories an hour. If you stand for three hours a day for five days that’s around 750 calories burnt. Over the course of a year it would add up to about 30,000 extra calories, or around 8lb of fat.
“If you want to put that into activity levels,” Dr Buckley says, “then that would be the equivalent of running about 10 marathons a year. Just by standing up three or four hours in your day at work.”
Dr Buckley thinks that although going out and doing exercise offers many proven benefits, our bodies also need the constant, almost imperceptible increase in muscle activity that standing provides. Simple movement helps us to keep our all-important blood sugar under control.
We can’t all stand up at work but the researchers believe that even small adjustments, like standing while talking on the phone, going over to talk to a colleague rather than sending an email, or simply taking the stairs, will help.
I have, of course, written this article while standing.