Why Being a Sitting Duck Will Kill You

Standing Desk

Standing Desk by Scott Robbin, on Flickr

Oh man, I’m getting messages from the Universe again. Too bad my back had to start aching for me to pay attention. Sometimes we are just not listening.

Back in August 2012, I heard Jimmy Moore interview Dr. Joan Vernikos on his Livin’ La Vida Low-Carb Show podcast. Dr. Vernikos, the former Director of NASA’s Life Science Division, has written a book called Sitting Kills, Moving Heals: How Everyday Movement Will Prevent Pain, Illness, and Early Death – and Exercise Alone Won’t. It’s a slim volume and a quick and easy read, and I really enjoyed it. I added her name to my list of possible blog topics on Evernote, and then I promptly forgot all about it.

Fast forward to this year. I’m doing a lot of writing and editing, and I’m spending hours a day sitting at my laptop. My back does not like this. Neither do other parts of my body. I’m stiff and uncomfortable and unhappy, but I don’t do anything about it. Then I play another Jimmy Moore podcast, in the same Low-Carb Conversations series that I was on with Kaila Prins, and they are discussing an article that says that sitting is the new smoking. OK, I get it, Universe. I’ll stand up.

We spend an insane amount of our time sitting, especially if we earn our living staring at a computer screen. Then many of us come home and spend more time staring at a television or other screen. Those of us who work at home are at even more risk of sitting for too long, with no water cooler or lunch room to entice us away from our seats. The question of what it does to our eyes and brain is a whole different blog post, but there is no doubt that all that sitting, even in an ergonomically responsible chair, is really, really bad for us.

It’s not just the stiff rump that we get from staying in the same position for too long. Apparently sitting still for long periods of time can lead to insulin resistance, weight gain and eventual diabetes and death. My mother died at age 69 from the complications of diabetes, so anyone who tells me I’m doing something that could lead me down the same road has got my undivided attention.

So what does Dr. Vernikos have to say? It’s quite fascinating, because she spent a lot of time working with astronauts, who experienced serious muscle and bone atrophy in space. These effects mimicked those of accelerated aging, but were reversed once the astronauts were back on Earth and their bodies had to learn to deal with gravity again. Much as they may love floating in weightlessness, without fighting gravity our bodies atrophy and die. In some ways, spending long hours lying in bed or sitting in a chair has the same effect as weightlessness. Who wants to accelerate their aging because they can’t be bothered to get out of their chair?

Lately standing desks have become popular. Some people combine them with treadmills so they are slowly walking all day – I don’t know if that is necessary or even helpful. But it is definitely a good idea to spend part of your working day standing instead of sitting. For me, occasionally putting my laptop on the kitchen counter instead of the kitchen table makes a real difference in how I feel after a few hours of work. Maybe one day I’ll get a standing desk, but for now this works.

How about you, how can you prevent your comfy chair from killing you?

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3 Responses to “Why Being a Sitting Duck Will Kill You”

  1. Salixisme Says:

    I agree that sitting is horrible for our bodies. And it is not just the insulin resistance/weight gain.

    I am a massage therapist, and I have large amounts of clients who come to me with low back pain that is caused by sitting too much. We as humans are not designed to sit on chairs… when we do, it chronically shortens our hip flexors (Iliopsoas) and that can cause pelvic rotations leading to stress on the muscles which results in back pain.
    The long and short is that we sit too much and do not stretch enough. Stretching your hip flexors is key to reducing back pain, getting a regular massage with a competant massage therapist who can releasae your hip flexors is another….

  2. Hadass Eviatar Says:

    Thank you! Mmmm, a massage … what a great idea!!

  3. Kaila (@MissSkinnyGenes) Says:

    Before the whole “getting hit by a car” thing, I was using a standing desk at work. I found that simply standing for long periods of time was actually quite difficult on my back as well. I’ve heard that treadmill desks are a better fix, although I haven’t had the good luck to be able to try one.

    I hate sitting all day–it’s definitely rough. When my back starts to protest, I end up lying in cobra position on the couch until my wrists hurt. It’s not exactly a great fix, but it at least reverses the forward extension of your spine for a little while…
    Kaila (@MissSkinnyGenes) recently posted…Acne & Amenorrhea Update: When n=1 Isn’t EnoughMy Profile

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