I’m standing as I write this. I’m ecstatic about it. After what I thought might be received as a harebrained or frivolous request, our Facilities folks came yesterday and raised one side of my L-shaped desk to about 40″ high. Add one anti-fatigue mat which is cushily supporting me as we speak, and a stool-height chair (for occasional use) yet to be ordered, and I’m hoping my desk and I have the beginnings of beautiful, renewed relationship.
Maybe some reading this are wondering, “What’s the big deal?” Maybe you already get to stand up for at least part of your day. I’m a software developer, so, unless you count a few trips to the bathroom and the water cooler and walking to meeting rooms, I really don’t have a lot of opportunity to stand. Maybe you just really love sitting. I’d just gotten sick of it. I’d go home after sitting all day long and feel exhausted, my body aching like I’d spent the day in the workout room, my back feeling like I was closer to 85 than 35 years old. I’d think, “That’s weird…I haven’t even really done anything today.”
Yeah. Precisely. That turns out to be a big part of the problem.
Fairly recently, there’s been a resurgence in the notion that sitting down all day is actually very bad for you. A popular article from Men’s Health last year calls it “The Most Dangerous Thing You’ll Do All Day.” That article cited a study in the research journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, where scientists at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana took a look at the lifestyles of more than 17,000 men and women over a period of 13 years or so. They came to a rather shocking conclusion: People who sit for most of the day are 54 percent more likely to die of heart attacks.
Apparently, this isn’t even a new finding. There’s similar research dating back to 1953, where British researchers found that bus drivers were twice as likely to die of heart attacks as trolley operators. Yeah, you guessed it. Bus drivers sit. Trolley operators stand. And the scariest part? Other lifestyle choices didn’t seem to have much influence over this statistic. They saw the higher incidence of heart attacks in smokers and non-smokers, in regular exercisers and those for whom cardio was a foreign language. So, you could be a non-smoker who hits the treadmill five times a week, and, because you sit all day, your heart attack risk is doubled.
So, the question is why? Why is such a seemingly innocuous thing as sitting down so incredibly hazardous to our cardiovascular health? That’s still a bit of an unknown, but one of the Pennington scientists believes it may be related to the lipoprotein lipase (LPL) enzyme. LPL breaks down fat in your bloodstream and turns it into energy. He found that standing rats have ten times the LPL running through their little bodies than rats that are laying down. The rats’ levels of fitness otherwise was moot: when they left their feet, their LPL levels dropped significantly. He believes the same thing happens to us when we sit.
But if you’re not able to stand eight hours during the day, does that mean you’re doomed to a tragic cardiovascular event? No, not at all. The idea doesn’t have to be to stand all the time, as long as you stand more. There are plenty of things you can do. Take breaks, walk to the bathroom at the other end of the building, go refill your water bottle more often, visit a colleague to talk rather than sending that email. Or, why not request that standing desk? Who knows, you just might get it. And if the people who make those decisions are hesitant, show them this infographic and see if that helps change their mind.
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