Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Are you sitting comfortably?

Yes? How much of your day is spent sitting?

"Sitting is the new smoking" is the current mantra and perhaps that is very true for many people. Hands up those who get up (from being horizontal all night), sit down to eat breakfast, sit in their commute to work (car, bus, train...), sit at their desk at work for seven or eight hours, sit for their commute home, sit to eat their dinner and then sit to watch TV before going back to being horizontal in bed?

When I was at purgatory work, I used to cycle in and out (about 5 miles each way) but yes, then I sat and sat and sat some more over the rest of the day, unless I was teaching a class. Now I don't even have the cycle to work as I work at home and my 'commute' involves moving from the kitchen to my desk. I was going to turn into someone who sat all day...

Instead, I chose to stand to write. My husband also stands at his desk. He invested in a desk converter that sits on top of his desk and can be raised to various heights. This is his desk:


My desk is an old-fashioned wooden thing with lots of drawers and wasn't quite as conducive to having the addition my husband has. This is my solution!


So, what are the benefits and downsides of standing?

For me the benefits are these:

I'm more productive. For whatever reason, if I'm standing at my desk I get on with work and don't faff about on Facebook, Twitter, email, browsing for a new notebook... I open up Scrivener and start work and I have good concentration. Admittedly, if I'm doing written notes, I tend to sit to do them because my low-tech standing solution isn't quite big enough to hold an A4 notebook opened out.

My muscles aren't constantly in a 'sit' position. I'm a keen runner and there are a number of muscles that don't play nicely if you have them in a flexed position (glutes, hip flexors etc) all the time. I'm a stronger runner as a result of standing and walking more during the day. Not only that, but my core muscles (abdominal/back etc.) are working. If you sit, your core muscles have nothing to do and so weaken, leaving you more prone to back issues/postural issues. As I'm standing now (writing this), I can feel my abdominal muscles are needed. If I sit, my belly turns into a jelly-blob. I've watched my father suffer from chronic back issues and end up in a spiral of not doing things because "It makes my back hurt" leading to his core muscles getting weaker, and then doing anything will indeed make his back hurt because there's no core strength. I have no intention of getting like that.

I burn more calories in a day. Standing uses more energy than sitting. I'm not overweight and never have been but I still like to eat and it's always a balance of calories in versus calories out. According to Juststand.org, if I stand for eight hours, I burn ~270 calories more than if I sat for the same period of time. Or, put another way, that's about the equivalent of a 25g bag of crisps and two biscuits.

Are there any disadvantages?

Not many. You need to build up to eight hours of standing - like using any set of muscles that you're not used to using, your postural muscles will ache, as will your legs. Start slow and work up to it.

Wear sensible shoes. My feet will protest a bit unless I wear something like my running shoes.

Take time over getting the height right. The footstool I use happens to be the right height, but there are laptop stands out there that are much more adjustable to give you a range of options. I'm shifting to a proper laptop stand, to make sure that I don't get neck ache.

If you're interested in the ins and outs of standing rather than sitting, and what the benefits are, Juststand.org has a lot of useful information.

What do others think? Do you stand or sit? If you sit, would you think about standing more?

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