If you’ve been paying attention at all over the past couple of years, you’ve heard that sitting is very bad for health. While that may sound a bit dramatic to phrase it so severely, the fact is, it’s true. Quite true, actually, in the literal sense.
Studies have found that people who sit a lot die much younger than people who don’t. The numbers vary a bit, but according to one study, those who sit 6+ hours per day are likely to die 15 years before those who sit 3 or fewer hours per day. Another study found that people who sit for most of the day are 54% more likely to die of a heart attack than those who do not.
Now, there are all sorts of reasons for all of this, but researchers haven’t yet been able to pinpoint the specific cause. Obviously, a big part of it is decreased caloric expenditure—standing for an hour burns 60 more calories than sitting for that length of time. But that’s just one aspect. Sitting too much causes gluteal amnesia (basically, makes the glutes less likely to fire during both exercise and day-to-day activity), which decreases the amount of calories you burn.
Now, you might think that this only applies to people who are sedentary overall; that you’re exempt from all of the consequences of sitters because you exercise and eat well. These things help, but they don’t make you immune.
One study found that even among people who were otherwise active, sitting for more than 4 hours per day had deleterious effects.
In terms of your actual fitness, sitting too much is going to mess up your workouts in one very simple way: it’s going to screw up your posture. When you sit, your hip flexors are in a shortened position; sitting too often creates perpetual shortness (or “tightness”), to the extent that it can pull your pelvis into posterior tilt. This will make you primed for injuries.
Similarly, sitting too much generally means you’re looking down at a computer, and typing at one — the result of this behavior is chronically shortened/tight pecs, creating a round, forward-rolled shoulder effect.
In addition to just looking terrible, this has implications for shoulder and back health. All of which is to say, sitting too much is going to make you more likely to get injured from your workouts, and cause you to get less out of them even if you’re not injured in any acute way.
So, what to do? The easiest answer is to sit less and stand more. But, that may be easier said than done. It’s not that standing is hard to do; it’s just easy to forget to do it.
With that in mind, here are a few tips:
1. Set An Alarm
If you have to sit at work or school or whatever, just set an alarm on your phone for 30 minutes.
Every half hour, just get up and stand for 1-2 minutes. If you’re ambitious and in private, or simply don’t care what other people think, you can hit a psoas stretch for each leg. This isn’t a cure-all for sitting, but I have some deep suspicions that while the cumulative number of minutes you sit is probably the biggest factor, the consecutive number of minutes is a secondary variable. Standing often isn’t going to do anything but help, so do it.
2. Stand During Commercials
I like TV. I make no bones about it or apologies for it. I watch a solid hour of TV every day, sometimes two hours. Sue me.
I’m not going to feed you some unrealistic stuff like watch the entire thing standing up. That’s dumb. But, do yourself a favor and standing up for the entire duration of a commercial break. Stand up and walk around a bit.
If you tend to watch stuff on premium channels that don’t have commercial breaks, stand up every ten minutes or so. Nothing crazy, just get off your ass and move around.
3. Stand While You’re Working
If you work at a desk, you might think sitting is a foregone conclusion. Not so, my friend. Not at all. These days, there are many options available to you, most notably standing desks.
If you work at home, it’s a good investment. However, you don’t have to shell out the cash; just be creative.
Depending on the height of your current desk, you can create a makeshift standing desk of your own with a little ingenuity. At my apartment back in NYC, I found that placing one of my dining room chairs on top of my dining room table, and then resting my laptop on the seat of the chair worked out to be the perfect height for me to type.
I’ve seen a number of people use stacks of books and stepladders and anything else you can think of.
Total investment: zero dollars.
BONUS TIP: I’ve heard that a number of people have had success getting a standing desk at their office, completely paid for by the company. Wanna know how? They asked for it.
Seriously. Two of my clients and several hundred peeps on the internet have said that sometimes, it’s as simple as asking HR. You may have to tell them you have back pain or something like that, but they might buy you one. Can’t hurt to ask.
Anyway, sitting is death, and standing is free. So why would you not put in a modicum of effort to fix this?