Sitting is the new smoking. While that claim may be a bit exaggerated, it is an effective reminder to remind ourselves to take our body for a walk.
The more than 360 joints inside our bodies are also ample evidence that we are built to stand up and move. And while more offices are including stand up desks and other mobility devices, the sedentary lifestyle still dominates.
Sitting for long periods of time reduces overall blood flow, particularly the oxygen that gets pushed via bloodstream through the lungs to the brain.
So, set yourself a reminder to get up every half hour and move around. But beware of text neck.
A recent study done by researchers at Tel Aviv University validates standing desks.
Not only is standing better for your health, it also strengthens your focus. This is because the stress of holding your posture improves selective attention.
The Stroop effect
The researchers had university students alternate between standing and sitting while testing their reaction time to a task of naming a color. The words printed behind the color either matched or conflicted the one in text (e.g., the word “blue” printed in red ink instead of blue ink).
Participants seemed to process congruent data — when the word and print color matched — at the same speed, or slightly slower, when they were sitting compared to when they were standing. But they processed incongruent data – when the word and print color did not match — more quickly when they were on their feet.
The study demonstrates that not all multitasking crimps productivity. In fact, overcompensating for the added stress on your feet sharpens your focus. As someone who just bought a standing desk myself (I highly recommend the Spark desk by Ergodriven for anyone starting out), I believe the studies to be true.
By engaging with my body, standing improves the selectivity of attention. I also use an anti-fatigue mat (check out the Topo by Ergodriven) to mix up my stances to avoid getting achy or tired.
Nevertheless, this latest study suggests that researchers consider other postures than sitting as part of their cognitive testing.
On the contrary, sitting is not the modern plague. It’s just the scary metaphor health practitioners use to remind us to get up and move every once in a while. They recommend standing up 5-10 minutes for every 45 minutes we’re sedentary.
The tagline caught on because doctors grew concerned that people weren’t active enough, even kids. Instead of shooting hoops, children were playing NBA 2k inside while their parents slaved away answering work emails on their digital devices. Everyone was gaining weight and increasing their chances of diabetes and heart disease.
While it’s true “the design of the human being is to be a mobile entity,” marketers sell fear. Did you know that taking ‘10,000 steps’ was just a sales gimmick created in Japan?
A watchmaker named Yamasa Tokei originally trotted out the 10,000 steps thing in 1965. He made and sold a pedometer he called Manpo-Kei, which when repeated out loud mimics the rhythm of a walk. In Japanese this translates into “10,000 step meter.” Ads for Tokei’s device said, “Let’s walk 10,000 steps a day!”
Like everything else in life, sitting is about balance. We sit to focus and meditate. We stand to manage emails and other routine tasks. Buy a standing desk if it helps or stack some books on top of each other and make your own. Walking meetings are also known to help jog the brain. Make what you want on the campaign for movement, but be careful to align sitting with smoking when the former is a more of a preference and the latter is a proven killer. Coffee, anyone?
Sitting is not the new smoking. Smoking kills you outright. Sitting for long periods of time without moving will do the same. But sitting in 45 minute intervals and then getting up to take a five minute break will keep you just as healthy as standing all day at work, which probably has its own negative consequences.
Some people need to sit in order to do focused, creative work. They may stand to answer email and input data. Meanwhile, the only way some people can work is on their feet.
Marketers sell fear. They sell successful role models that worked standing up, most notably Benjamin Franklin and Ernest Hemingway. Standing up is a health recommendation, not a promise for success.
Sitting won’t kill you if you get up every once in a while, preferably for exercise.
But the reality is, sitting isn’t bad. It’s sitting for long periods of time without movement that’s the killer. In fact, staying in pretty much any position for too long isn’t healthy.
Sitting is not the new smoking, an inactive lifestyle is. My basic tenet is to walk everywhere if time, safety, and weather permit. This could mean anything from walking to work, taking the stairs to and from meetings, or just standing up for five to minutes after sitting down for an hour.
Like Mikael, I also have a tendency to focus better on my butt rather than my feet. Additionally, I’ve noticed that I zip through email much faster standing up, possibly because my brain thinks the body is in motion.
Note: As you can see here, I’m prepared to go back and forth on this sitting-walking issue.
As we know, multitasking is a productivity killer, and the standing desk effectively eliminates the urge to multitask and flip between websites, email, and other distractions. “I constantly had my to-do list opened and I’d try to get through them all ASAP. The only differences being that while sitting, I spent more time on Facebook and Spotify, which shows us that sitting lets our minds wander more,“ Davis Siksnans, project manager at the Draugiem Group, told me.
Stand to focus and complete tasks. Sit when you need to brainstorm. Or just stand all the time.
I personally like to mix it up. Sometimes a simple shift in movement and change in environment just makes me more productive.