“Sitting is not bad for you, it’s sitting still”
What, are you nuts?
Why not smoke a cigarette while you’re at it!
Don’t sit, stand. Don’t stand, you’ll get cankles (I have no idea what that is but it sounds bad!). Sit on an enormous exercise ball, really, you don’t look like an idiot, plus it makes your butt look small by comparison. Better yet, put a treadmill under your desk. Or sit AND stand. Or sit-n-spin! (are you old enough to remember those?) Or try bike pedals under your desk (hope you don’t have long legs) Or build yourself a giant hamster wheel. Confused yet?
Okay, let’s take a deep breath and calm down. Don’t panic. It’s actually okay to sit. The latest studies indicate a combination of fidgeting, active sitting preferably in a way that encourages active muscle engagement, with breaks, stretching, moving, and ideally incorporating a sit-to-stand adjustable desk.
ACTIVE SITTING & FIDGETING
“Sitting is not bad for you, it’s sitting still.” Gretchen Reynolds, The New York Times
Ms. Reynolds is the first to admit her confusion, having been reporting on sitting for several years now:
“… common and persistent misconception(s) about the dangers of sitting, for which I may be partly to blame, since I have so frequently written about those dangers. (See here and here and here.)
But while prolonged sitting is known to increase the risks for conditions like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, liver disease and premature death, the actual culprit behind the risks, scientists believe, is not the posture of sitting, but the immobility of your muscles when you are in that position. They aren’t contracting, and muscular contractions are important for health. Working muscles fuel themselves with blood sugar, aiding blood sugar control. They also stimulate the release of various biochemicals that improve cholesterol profiles and metabolic health.
So sitting itself is not bad; it’s sitting still.
… Even fidgeting can help, according to a fascinating new study, which found that women who fidgeted all the time, including while seated, generally lived longer than non-fidgeters, even if they sat the same number of hours most days.”
Perhaps overstating the benefits, Tom Whipple, the Science editor of The Times (UK, not NY) proclaims
“Fidgeting could save your life. A study has suggested that having a sedentary job need not be disastrous for your health, provided you are also one of those people who continually jiggle your leg and shuffle in your seat.”
As Walter M. Bortz II, M.D.Clinical Professor of Medicine at Stanford University reports in the Huffington Post:
“…sitting itself might not be the issue, but rather what you do when you are sitting. If you are limp and languid then maybe you are at risk of disuse and its deficits. However, if you are a toe tapper or squirmer you are relieved of another risk factor…Keep fidgeting, the calories that you spend may be a health benefit.”
BUT ISN’T STANDING BETTER THAN SITTING?
As Gretchen Reynolds reports in another recent New York Times PhysEd Column,
forcing yourself to stand up at work may not offer as many benefits as previously thought.
Especially not in the way of increased energy expenditure (aka: calories burnt):
Summarizing an experiment featured in this month’s Journal of Physical Activity and Health that tested whether standing goads our metabolisms to speed up more than sitting, Reynolds writes:
While standing for 15 minutes, the volunteers burned about 2 additional calories compared to when they sat down It didn’t matter whether they stood up and then sat down or sat down and then stood up. The total caloric expenditure was about the same and was not sizable.
And in fact, standing all day comes with problems that may outweigh the benefits. As Alan Hedge, a professor in the Department of Design and Environment Analysis at Cornell University, told US News & World Report in 2015,
“too much [standing] can compress the spine and lead to lower back problems over time. It can also boost your risk for carotid arteries, varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis and other cardiovascular problems since the heart has to work against gravity to keep blood flowing up from your toes.”
As Katherine Schreiber reports in Psychology Today: “Your better bet, Hedge (and others) have suggested, is to shift between sitting and standing at multiple points throughout the day.”
SO IS THERE A “FIDGET” CHAIR?
Why I’m glad you asked! It just so happens, I’ve been working on this problem for a few years now, and I’m proud to report, I think I’ve pretty much found the
“holy grail” — a chair that adapts to you, not only encourages good posture but active movement, muscle contraction and blood flow; it’s comfortable, it’s kind of a ball chair, but kind of a huge leap forward too.
I call it the Språng Chair, and I’m so excited about it that I’ve launched a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter to get some into production.
Early enthusiasm for the chair’s design concept has been expressed by Cornell University Professor Alan Hedge of the university’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory. After viewing the video of the chair’s manufacture and use, Dr. Hedge wrote,
“I think your chair design concept addresses many benefits….rethinking the back support design concept is a big plus.” Further, Dr. Hedge has invited me and the chair to be studied by his graduate class this fall (actually, I’m pretty sure just the chair is going to be studied).
Dr. Scott Schreiber of the Delaware Back Pain and Sports Rehabilitation Center has commented:
“I love this idea! It appears to be great for the back, regarding alignment, activates the core muscles and is adjustable for nearly every body type. This is a great piece of equipment for the office employee or person working from home. From an aesthetic perspective, it looks great. I can’t wait to try it out! www.drscottschreiber.com