By Yeo Chee Yew
Social media is awash with posts that propagate “Sitting is the new smoking” (or something along those lines). These often come with the oh-so-obvious advertisements for standing desks. But is that just a marketing ploy designed to make you part with your hard-earned cash? Let’s look at the science behind the stand vs sit debate to find out.
The sedentary lifestyle (and the accompanying physiological changes it induces) are harmful to us. There is also ample evidence that physical inactivity is linked to higher morbidity and mortality. However, how does this relate to sitting at our desks? Chances are, you are sitting while reading this article! Also, would the standing desk be the solution?
Ever notice that your back hurts more after sitting for extended periods of time? Turns out, sitting increases the pressure on your lower back (when compared to standing)!
The metabolic changes and subsequent harmful effects induced by sitting aren’t simply reversed by being active.
Since sitting for prolonged periods is bad for us, perhaps the simple solution would be to adopt standing desks. It is the intuitive solution to the problem, after all.
In 2013, JP Buckley and co showed that standing reduced postprandial glycemic variability - aka your blood sugar varies less after meals if you are standing. Higher glycemic variability has been linked to circulatory oxidative stress. In layman's terms, lower variability loosely translates to a lesser likelihood of developing cardiovascular diseases.
Good news! Right? Right?
Sadly, solutions that are the first thing you think of; look sensible, or are easy to implement are often terrible, ineffective solutions that can sometimes open another can of worms.
Just take the data point above as an example: In 2015, DP Bailey and co found that “Breaking up prolonged sitting with light-intensity walking improves postprandial glycemia, but breaking up sitting with standing does not.”
There is no clear verdict to the benefits of standing desks. For every pro touted, there is likely a con to worry about.
Reduction of lower back pain, and improvement in cholesterol and blood pressure.
Physical activity at a standing desk was offset by a decrease in physical activity away from the desk
Improvements in psychological well-being, and creativity; with no detrimental effects to focus or productivity.
Standing desks were associated with deterioration in reaction time and mental state.
In 2018, AR Caldwell and his colleagues even demonstrated that prolonged standing increases lower limb arterial stiffness!
So should you sit or stand at your desks? This is a complex problem - people were already no longer getting much exercise in their lives pre-pandemic. Here we are, trying to conjure what we hope will be an easy fix. And the conflicting nuggets of information can make it hard to come to an informed decision.
What we do know is that a sedentary lifestyle is not good for you. Any form of inactivity, whether standing or seated, results in negative health implications. While the standing desk may solve one issue, it isn’t necessarily the consequence-free cure-all that many claim it to be.
Instead of focusing on this superficial dilemma, we should perhaps focus more on reintroducing regular physical activity into our lives. Our bodies are designed to move, not stay still. Jumping on the standing desk bandwagon can only do so much if you continue to remain immobile.
Adjust your system to facilitate physical activity
Staying motivated to keep fit is easier said than done. Sometimes that urge just doesn’t seem to last. If instead, you take that motivation and use it to incrementally improve your position, you’d find it easier to stick to the new regime and see results.
Related Reading: Applying Kaizen to Fitness
Incorporate regular fitness breaks into your daily routine. Over on Watch, we have a great selection of deskercises that you could do to keep active. If that isn’t enough for you, why not take another small step forward by cycling to work?
Related Reading: Work, Life, Cycle! - Why You Should Cycle To Work