“Sitting is the new smoking!”
“Sitting is a death sentence!”
“Sitting your way early into the grave?”
If you believe everything the media is telling you hook, line and sinker, then you would not dare to sit again.
What does science say about the sitting and the new standing desks?
Let us look into that.
Dr Zhong Nashan says, “I have been using a standing desk for over 5 years now and when I was creating this video, I thought I would find significant research to back up my decision.”
I was able to read a little over two dozens of articles on this subject. It is really surprising that the data is not as explicit as expected. What does the data I discovered say about sitting and standing desks and how they influence your health and productivity?
It is important to first understand the basis of the arguments against the sitting and standing desks. Is sitting all that bad?
The fundamental principle is that a stationary lifestyle and the changes that accompany it tend to be harmful to the body.
It has been proven that dormancy can be traced to a higher rate of morbidity and mortality. The question on your mind would be, “How does this then relate to sitting by the desk?” and other questions like, “Is the standing table the best alternative?”
In the demonstration carried out by Mandsager and colleagues in 2018, they discovered that poor cardiorespiratory fitness as examined on an exercise treadmill test is strongly associated with mortality.
Meaning that if you are in a better shape, there is a low possibility of mortality.
It is important to note that the above research just like many others are retrospective studies, therefore, they demonstrate correlation and not causation. In addition to this research, it was discovered that exercise cannot reverse the negative effects caused by prolonged sitting.
The reason for this is that the metabolic changes and subsequent adverse effects caused by sitting are not easily reversed by being active.
Sitting increases the pressure on the lower back as against standing. Have you ever noticed that your back hurts more when you sit for a long period of time? Then, let’s talk about the significance of the standing desk.
If we say sitting for an extended period of time is bad for us, then we would think of no other solution other than the standing desk. Buckley and colleagues in 2013 demonstrated that prolonged standing reduces postprandial glycemic variability, this simply means that your blood sugar varies less after consuming a meal when standing.
A greater amplitude of glycemic variability has been linked to circulatory oxidative stress. Which means that this is good.
Bailey et al. however had conflicting data in their 2015 research. The data suggested that standing did not change postprandial glycemic variation but short bouts of less intense activity did.
In 2017, Gibbs and colleagues discovered that decreased caloric usage could be a specific mechanism, in which inactive behaviour increases health risks such as obesity. Obesity is caused by energy imbalance around the body.
They also discovered that standing wastes more energy than sitting, this discovery is not a surprise anyway. In all, the discourse supporting the benefits of standing is not well defined.
In 2013, Katzarzyk made a suggestion that says, increasing standing reduces mortality rate. Smith and colleagues in 2017 said the exact opposite, saying instead that jobs which involve standing can be associated with a double increase in heart disease as against jobs that involve sitting only.
Several other studies in the course of this research reveals that an increase in physical activity associated with standing desks helps to reduce lower back pain, improve cholesterol and blood pressure.
Other studies suggested that physical activity through a standing desk counteracts the decrease in physical activities away from a standing desk. Yet, other studies pointed out the improvements in psychological well being, mental alertness and no detriments to focus and productivity. Some others concluded that standing desks were linked with decline in reaction time and mental state.
We can summarize the above research into two systematic reviews.
In 2014, Neuhaus and colleagues concluded their research by saying that “the installation of activity-permissive workstations in office-based workplaces is likely to be a feasible and acceptable means to reduce sedentary time, with mostly neutral or positive impacts on adiposity and their health and work-related outcomes.”
The systematic review by MacEwen and colleagues in 2015 concluded that there was no enough evidence to evaluate the usefulness of each type of desk, however, the treadmill desk helps to improve body glucose, cholesterol and helps to reduce fat.
Standing desks have few physiologic changes but improves psychological wellness. Meanwhile, too much standing or sitting will lead to discomfort.
Where then does this leave us?
The main takeaway from my explicit discourse is that: the topic on standing versus sitting is lame. Majority of the studies were retrospective and did not account for the possible confounding variables.
For instance, Smith and colleagues discovered that people who have jobs that involve more sitting have a two times increase in developing heart disease. When considerations such as types of occupation, socioeconomic variables and demographic factors are not put in place, then the information is almost meaningless.
The data that says a less active lifestyle is not good for you is quite strong. But I am certainly not convinced that a standing desk is the best solution.
The problem is that people do not get as much exercise as they need in their lives, we are then proposing a simple solution that will serve to fix this problem.
Unfortunately, the scientific explanation does not give us a reliable response, but we must therefore make a decision as to either sit or stand at the desk even though there is no clear cut information.
I can say that is not the kind of decision or question to ponder about.
In 2018, Caldwell and colleagues demonstrated that standing for an extended period of time causes arterial stiffness which is no good.
It seems that any form of inactivity, whether standing or sitting, has negative health implications. Rather than focusing all attention on standing or sitting at our working desks, we should focus on the important principle of moving regularly. It has been suggested moving every 20 minutes is a good thumb rule.
The way the body is structured, it is for movement and not the opposite. Even though you are using a standing desk, you should still get involved in movement activities such as walking, shifting, stretching, yoga and switching between standing and sitting all day long.
Therefore, I would like to give you some practical advice.
Here are three points you can act on as often as possible:
First, stay hydrated: Staying hydrated is one of my best methods to help induce movement. The benefit for me is that I am well hydrated and gives me the benefit of inducing regular movement because I need to use the restroom regularly.
If you tend to forget about drinking enough water, you can set reminders on your mobile phone or smart watch. You can also buy a water bottle and keep it near you.
Second, adjust your body system to make physical activities easy for you.
Know that your system produces results when you are consistent with your physical activities. After watching this video, I know you will feel motivated to do more exercise but that is not enough because I know it won’t last a week. You should rather use that motivation to change your system, with this, you are more likely to get positive results.
This is what I do to make my body system adaptable to physical activities- rather than driving to work or getting groceries or hanging out with friends, ride a bicycle instead. If any of these places is far, use public transport in between your trips.
I will continue to use my standing desk because since I began using it, it has a significant benefit for my posture and helps alleviate back pain, I can also balance any potential effect by moving from time to time through hydrating regularly or a reminder from my smart watch.
Some ergonomic companies will tell you to sit at 90 degrees. This is absolutely wrong because you should not sit like that.
We have carried out research over the past 30 years on the best position to sit at a computer, well all the research gave the same results. A lot of people think they have to sit at 90 degrees but you don’t have to sit at that angle. The sitting posture of a person will really be determined by what they are doing with their hands. Let us take an instance, suppose you are sitting at a table with a plate of food before you. If I pull the food all of a sudden, you will lean forward to try and grab after the food. This is a hunched posture called “being a turtle”.
When you lean forward just like I described, you are compressing the forces at your lower back and neck in double folds. This is so because your head is in a different position and you are stretching your arms to reach your keyboard and mouse. This is a very bad posture to work and this position is what we see most times. When people are working with their computers, they are sitting forward and not sitting back in a good chair.
You should therefore sit in a relaxed position everytime you work. This simply means that you should sit back in a chair by reclining the chair in 10 to 20 degrees different from a completely vertical position. When you do this, the compressive force on the lower back is reduced which in turn reduces the muscle activity in the torso because the chair is absorbing some of the body weight. This sitting position reduces the compressive forces under the pelvis. The position also allows you to put your feet in front of your knee and helps you to improve blood circulation to your lower legs, which in turn allows you to sit and work in a relaxed way for a longer period.
That is the same way you should sit when driving a car. When you are working with your computer, your mouse, keyboard and monitor should all be in a position that makes it easy for you to work in a comfortable posture for a long time. When you are working, you can take breaks from that position so you won’t be sitting in a single posture throughout the day. Through this, your body is refreshed and healthy all day long.
Recommend sources for correcting your wrong postures: