Sitting Disease – a new problem?


We have all seen the recommendation that we need to exercise more.  Couch potatoes have been given warnings.  Programs to get the population exercising more have been initiated by governments.  Health Ministers have long been campaigning to get people to do more exercise, but research has shown that even if you spend an hour every night in the gym, prolonged periods of inactivity are still bad for your health.  The way the body deals with sugars and fats when sitting down has been linked to increased risk of diabetes and heart disease, and with some people now sitting for 12 hours a day, whether at work, playing you’re your smartphone, watching TV or in a car, we are the most sedentary humans in history and we could be sitting on a health time bomb.

For many people, their job entails their being desk-bound for the working day, so what is the answer for these people?  What is now being proposed to counter the effects brought on by prolonged sitting, is introducing standing periods to a working day which it is claimed results in improved blood circulation which increases levels of energy, concentration and productivity.

The ‘mechanical’ effects of sitting all day have been well documented.  For example, Sitting causes a sharp reduction in the activity of lipoprotein lipase, which breaks down fats and makes them available to muscles as fuel.  Consequently, if you sit for more than 23 hours per week you are 64 percent more likely to die of heart disease.  (Source: Ergonomics)

Dublin based physical therapist, Mark O’Brien says, “I am seeing a huge rise in the number of people attending my clinic with posture related complaints that have developed as a result of prolonged sitting.  Just getting up off your backside for an extra three to four hours per day while at work and at home can reduce these problems.”

Now, as opposed to sitting, standing at work can be beneficial.  The constant muscle activity of standing allows the body to keep blood sugar levels stable, which is proven to help maintain concentration and focus.  (Source: Ergonomics)

By standing for three hours per day, over the course of a year, office workers will burn an amount of extra calories that is equivalent to running 10 marathons.  (Which is 10 more than most of us do per year!)  That is 3.5 kg of fat burned each year, just by a slight change to working habits.  (Source: BBC)

Now if you want some testimonials, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Benjamin Franklin and Leonardo da Vinci were all famous advocates of standing desks, as opposed to sitting desks.  (Source: The Economist)

Mind you, ‘standing’ all day has its problems healthwise as well, mainly related to the spine, hips joints, knees and ankles.  So what is the answer to all this?

There are a couple of ways this problem can be approached.  For those stuck in the office, they can look at desks which have a variable height.  After a few hours of sitting, they can then stand up and work standing for a couple of hours.  There is one available in the UK called a Varidesk (, which claims that with its spring-assisted smooth lifting mechanism, users can change position without disturbing their cup of coffee, let alone the flow of their day.  This desk even comes with an app that will remind the sitter when it is time to stand.  (Why it needs an app, when an alarm clock will do the same job, I do not know.)

Now, despite Winston Churchill and Leonardo da Vinci, standing down and sitting up has its limitations.  Interspersed with positional changes in the office environment, there is something else you can do – and that is called ‘walking’.

How many of you telephone others in your workplace?  Just about all of you?  There is one chap in the next office to mine who rings me, rather than walking the 20 meters to talk to me face to face!

So here is the answer.  Sit for an hour, walk for 10 minutes, stand for an hour, walk for 10 minutes, sit for another hour then walk to lunch, and repeat in the afternoon.  Try it!