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Stand Up for Yourself!


toddler typing on laptopI hope you are NOT sitting down as you are reading this because mounting evidence indicates you would be better off if you got in the habit of standing more often.

My wife Joan is the queen of standing. Like her mother (who lived to be 99 with a sharp mind and healthy heart), she rarely sits down during the day - even to eat. Data to prove that standing up is good for you goes back more than 60 years, when a study from England compared bus conductors, who stood while they worked, with bus drivers, who of course sat while they worked. This study, which appeared in the esteemed medical journal the Lancet, found that the bus drivers had twice the risk of developing heart disease compared to the bus conductors.

Spending ever more time on our bottoms is getting to be a big problem. Some recent studies suggest that sitting too much may shorten a person’s life by about two years or more. Indeed, sitting is the new smoking and it’s become a raging epidemic. We sit in cars, planes and trains, and we sit all day at work, and then come home to sit and eat; after which we sit and watch TV.

Michael Mosley, a British medical doctor and BBC journalist, along with a team of researchers, recently conducted an experiment about the dangers of sitting. The researchers asked a group of average sedentary adults to stand rather than sit for at least three additional hours each day for one week.

The study volunteers stuck to the program nicely. Indeed standing for three extra hours a day seemed not to bother them and many even reported feeling better, including one woman who was surprised that the increased time on her feet during the day improved her arthritis symptoms.

After meals, the study volunteers’ blood sugar levels fell back down to baseline much more rapidly on the days when they stood compared to the days when they sat. They also burned more calories, about 50 calories extra during each hour of standing.

That may seem trivial, until you consider that if you made a habit of standing an additional three hours a day for a year, it would add up to about 30,000 extra calories, or around eight pounds of fat. This would be the amount of energy you burned if you ran 10 marathons during the year! And simply standing up an additional three or four hours each day would put much less wear and tear on your joints and your heart compared to 10 marathons a year.

And don’t get too smug just because you make a point of exercising most days. Accumulating data indicates that even a bout of daily exercise cannot protect you from the damage done by extended periods of sitting.

Exercising vigorously, such as jogging, weight lifting, stair climbing, tennis, swimming or biking, provides unique and wonderful health benefits to both mind and body. Yet, each of us also thrives on the continual, hardly noticeable increased muscular activity and balance adjustments that standing requires. Just getting off your duff and up on your feet helps to normalize blood sugar levels and improves many hormones, and also douses the fires of inflammation.

So what is it about sitting that is so detrimental? For starters, your body becomes resistant to insulin, the hormone that keeps your blood sugar in check. Extended periods of sitting also markedly decreases the activity of an important enzyme called lipoprotein lipase, which dissolves fats so that they can be burned as a fuel by the muscles.

When you sit for a prolonged period of time, the amount of fat circulating in your blood as triglycerides rises, and this can lead to clogged arteries. And perhaps most importantly, spending too much time perched on your “booty” also increases inflammation - which over time can predispose to all sorts of nasty diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and Alzheimer’s.

By the way, this notion of standing while working is not a new idea. Benjamin Franklin designed a special desk so he could read and write while he stood. Ernest Hemingway and Sir Winston Churchill also had elevated work surfaces for reading and writing while standing. I have a new office desk that is designed to be used while on my feet. In fact, I wrote this article while standing up!


In Good Health,

James O'Keefe, MD

Photo Credit: Pixabay Creative Commons