For most Americans, sitting is a major part of daily life. Between eating, driving, reading, watching TV and time spent on digital devices and at desks, most of us end up on our backsides for at least 40 hours a week. And from a health perspective, that’s not a good thing.
Recent research has pointed to prolonged sitting as a key contributor to diabetes, heart disease and obesity. That, in turn, has led to a surge in the popularity of standing desks, which have become a fixture in offices throughout Oklahoma and the U.S. But are chair-free work stations the answer to a growing list of health problems?
“Not exactly,” said Hal Scofield, M.D., a physician and medical researcher at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. “While there’s no doubt standing is a superior option to sitting for an entire work day, moving around is the real solution with proven results.”
Research has shown that standing desks have led to marginally increased levels of good (HDL) cholesterol and weight loss. However, standing all day can lead to increased fatigue and raise the risk of varicose veins. It can also compress the spine, leading to back pain and other musculoskeletal injuries.
In other words, said Scofield, standing desks may not work for everyone. “I am not against standing desks, because they do help in some ways, but I am more in favor of keeping active throughout the day,” he said.
“Just 10 minutes of walking to break up periods of extended sitting can be enough to restore a lot of the damage to the vascular system,” said Scofield. “Walking gets you almost all the benefits of exercise, and you don’t have to train for marathons.”
That could mean strolling to a colleague’s office instead of sending an email. Take a walk during your lunch break and try to use the stairs instead of the elevator. You might even park farther from your office to add a few steps to your day.
Even gym rats don’t get a free pass to spend the remainder of the day on their derrieres; research indicates that daily exercise is not sufficient to undo the damage done by prolonged sitting.
“We all need to break up the periods of sitting with activity as often as we can,” Scofield said. “That short walk around the office is doing more for our well-being than just clearing our heads.”