A spate of recent news stories proclaims that sitting is killing us. No wonder, then, that many folks are trading their ergonomic chairs for standing desks or stability balls. But does new furniture actually help?
The first thing to figure out is why sitting is supposedly so bad for us. An oft-quoted story in The New York Times explains it in terms of electrical activity or lack thereof.
“The posture of sitting itself probably isn’t worse than any other type of daytime physical inactivity, like lying on the couch watching ‘Wheel of Fortune,'” James Vlahos writes. “But for most of us, when we’re awake and not moving, we’re sitting. This is your body on chairs: Electrical activity in the muscles drops … leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects.” These effects include type 2 diabetes, lower “good” cholesterol, and obesity.
Harvard Business Review blogger Susy Jackson decided to see if swapping her chair for a stability ball or a standing desk would have an overall effect on her daily activity. Wearing a Fitbit Ultra Tracker, she
charted her activity over the course of two weeks at each — the traditional chair, the ball chair, and the standing desk.
What she discovered might surprise you: Her activity, as measured by steps taken around the office, was about the same no matter which configuration she used. And although that doesn’t necessarily mean that the options are equal — she didn’t, for example, measure the electrical activity of her muscles — it does show that no one option made her more prone to getting more exercise in general.
What does it all mean? Well, it might mean that our laziness is impervious to trendy solutions. Or maybe we should all just get treadmill desks.
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I had a desk that would instantly move from one level to the other. Having a choice and switching it up during the day is the best choice if you must be at a desk. You need to be sure it is ergonomically set up, though, or the benefit will be wiped out with new problems.
FitBit and others of its ilk can only track steps taken. It’s intuitively (and scientifically) obvious that standing takes more energy than sitting, sitting take more energy than lying down. Your body has to work harder to remain even partially upright, and it’s muscle activity – albeit small movements – that keep you there.