Posts Tagged ‘sedentary’

Standing desks, sedentary behaviour, and the need for motion

December 19th, 2011

My Jockology column in this week’s Globe and Mail takes a look at the surge of interest in standing desks:

Now that we’ve accepted the surprising truth about sedentary behaviour – that sitting at a desk all day wreaks havoc on your health, no matter how much you exercise before or after work – the standing desk is having a moment. Desk jockeys everywhere are rising up.

The cashiers of the world, meanwhile, must be scratching their heads.

“Ask anyone who works in a shop whether they feel good standing all day, or whether they need to periodically sit,” says Alan Hedge, who directs the Human Factors and Ergonomics program at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Indeed, prolonged standing has been linked to a long list of health problems over the years: most commonly varicose veins, but also night cramps, clogged arteries, back pain and even (according to one study) “spontaneous abortions” – enough to make you think twice before throwing away your chair. But striking the right balance in your cubicle isn’t necessarily about the furniture, researchers say – it’s about how you use it… [READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE]



Is prolonged standing at work good or bad?

October 8th, 2011

Travis Saunders at Obesity Panacea has an interesting post describing a new study of schoolkids using standing desks for an entire school year. Among the findings: the kids chose to stand rather than sit 91% of the time; the kids burned 10.8 more calories per hour when standing; and the overweight kids in particular burned 22.8 more calories per hour. All good stuff — and more importantly, this seems like a great way to minimize the serious problems like heart disease and metabolic problems that seem to be associated with too much time spent sitting down.

But is standing up all day really a good solution? It used to be that occupations like check-out clerk were seen as bad for health because employers forced cashiers to stand up all day. Even a cursory glance at the research finds  plenty of studies linking prolonged occupational standing to lower back pain, varicose veins and nighttime leg cramps, and chronic venous disorders more generally.

I’ve definitely been considering the idea of switching to a standing workstation — and the cheapest option would definitely be a simple, non-adjustable desk. But it’s not clear to me that standing all the time is any better than sitting all the time. I suppose you could simply use a high chair or stool to sit at your standing desk. But I’m leaning toward the conclusion that the investment in an adjustable desk may be worthwhile.

Evidence-based guidelines for sedentary behaviour

February 16th, 2011
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I’ve written a few times recently about the newly emerging dangers of sitting too much (as opposed to exercising too little). Today, the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology announced the release of the first-ever guidelines for sedentary behaviour for children and youth. How bad is the problem?

“Canadian children and youth spend sixty-two per cent of their waking hours in sedentary pursuits, with six to eight hours per day of screen time as the average for school-aged kids,” said Dr. Mark Tremblay, Director, Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research (HALO) at the CHEO Research Institute.

There are still no precise answers (yet) to questions like how many hours you can stay motionless before damaging changes in your muscles begin. But the guidelines do a nice job of setting reasonable goals and providing common-sense strategies for keeping kids from spending too long in a zombiefied state — even if, much like the companion guidelines for physical activity, the goals are likely to be somewhat aspirational for many parents. Goals like “Indoors, help children and youth stay active by having them help with meal preparation and other household chores” are well-meaning. But really, if parents aren’t already doing that, it’s probably not just because they didn’t know it was a good idea.

Anyway, the guidelines for children aged 5-11 are available here, and for youth aged 12-17 here. Take a look at them, even if you’re an adult — it might give you some good ideas.

Can sitting too long really hurt your health?

February 7th, 2011

Today’s Jockology column in the Globe and Mail looks at the latest research on the potential dangers of sedentary behaviour. This topic generated a lot of interest when I blogged about it a few weeks ago, so I decided to get in touch with Travis Saunders of Obesity Panacea, whose Ph.D. research is investigating this very question, to find out more:

[…] Two new studies highlight the growing consensus that long bouts of uninterrupted sedentary behaviour carry health risks that can’t be erased even if you’re getting plenty of exercise at other times during the day. Researchers are now rushing to determine exactly what counts as “sedentary,” and how people whose jobs require them to sit at a desk for the majority of their waking hours can mitigate some of these risks… [READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE]

Right now there are more questions than answers in this field, so the advice on what we should do to avoid these risks is necessarily vague. But I loved Travis’s answer to how he deals with the issue while awaiting the results of further studies:

Until then, we’re left with interim solutions – such as the $30 foot-pedal device that Mr. Saunders invested in last fall while preparing for his doctoral exams, when he realized he was spending 14 hours a day sitting at a desk reading about the dangers of sitting at a desk.

“It just sits under my desk and I pedal, I’d say about half [an] hour out of every hour. Very low intensity, but it’s engaging the muscles in my legs and the muscles in my lower back,” he says.

“I have no idea whether or not this is making a difference, but it’s plausible … and in the absence of any other options, I’m going to keep doing it.”

There’s also an interesting graphic by Trish McAlaster that accompanies the print version of the article. It’s not yet posted online, but I’ll link to it here if and when it goes up.

UPDATE Feb. 7: I’ve received a bunch of questions about where to buy an exercise peddler like Travis uses. If you’re in the U.S., it’s simple: you can order from Amazon for $24.08. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to ship to Canada. This is the link Travis sent me for where he bought it, but they appear to have gone out of stock since last week. It looks to me like this site would ship to Canada, but I’m not sure. If anyone finds any leads for shipping to Canada, please let me know!

More evidence that sitting too much is bad even if you exercise

January 16th, 2011

One of the most surprising bits of research to emerge last year was the finding that too much sitting can be very bad your health, no matter how much exercise you do. In other words, going to the gym every day can’t undo the damage done by sitting in front of a computer all day then laying on the couch all evening.

The trickle of research that started last year is now becoming a flood — for example, I noticed two more studies released in the last few days. One, in the American Journal of Cardiology, reported the following:

Data show that compared to people who spend less than two hours each day on screen-based entertainment like watching TV, using the computer or playing video games, those who devote more than four hours to these activities are more than twice as likely to have a major cardiac event that involves hospitalization, death or both.

The other, in the European Heart Journal, puts a more positive spin on how to mitigate the risks of prolonged sitting:

“Our research showed that even small changes, which could be as little as standing up for one minute, might help to lower this health risk. It is likely that regular breaks in prolonged sitting time could be readily incorporated into the working environment without any detrimental impact on productivity, although this still needs to be determined by further research…”

This whole topic is still a little bewildering for those of us who’ve grown up thinking that getting enough daily exercise means you’re not “sedentary.” Fortunately, just last week Travis Saunders of Obesity Panacea did a nice job of explaining what’s currently known about the science in this area in a guest post at Scientific American. For example:

But what I find truly fascinating is that sedentary behavior also results in rapid and dramatic changes in skeletal muscle. For example, in rat models, it has been shown that just 1 day of complete rest results in dramatic reductions in muscle triglyceride uptake, as well as reductions in HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol). And in healthy human subjects, just 5 days of bed rest has been shown to result in increased plasma triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, as well as increased insulin resistance—all very bad things. And these weren’t small changes—triglyceride levels increased by 35%, and insulin resistance by 50%!

[…] What is most interesting to me personally is that these physiological changes in skeletal muscle have little or nothing to do with the accumulation of body fat, and occur under extremely rapid time-frames. This means that both lean and obese individuals, and even those with otherwise active lifestyles, are at increased health risk when they spend excessive amounts of time sitting down.

Travis’s whole post is definitely worth a read, as its puts the whole body of research into context (and there are some good questions and answers in the comments section).