But HOW is Sitting Bad For You?

qsqmGrim statistics detailing the dangers of sitting abound. We’ve covered the facts before. So we know THAT sitting is bad for us, but exactly HOW is sitting unhealthy?

Some of those facts speak to the how of the matter – stuff like circulation, heart rate, and metabolic effects. But we need a deeper understanding to truly become independent assessors of our own ergonomics. And I know that what everyone really wants, deep down, is to be an independent assessor of their own ergonomics (wooooo!).

All jokes aside, it’s important that we all be able to decide in real life whether we’re doing healthy things. So let’s go!

Sitting is Bad Because it isn’t Walking

We spoke to this in depth in Vascular Hemodynamics for Dummies, so here’s a brief summary. You know that your heart pumps blood around your body. When you aren’t laying down, gravity helps your heart by pushing blood down to your feet. When you walk, calf contractions on each step force blood back up to your heart.

The problem with sitting (and standing still) is that your calves hardly ever contract, so you end up with blood pooling in your lower legs and feet. This means your heart is now working with less blood, which leads to other problems…

Less Blood Pumping Means Weak Metabolism

Scientific research has shown that long periods of sitting slows your metabolism, by decreasing the amount of circulating lipoprotein lipase, a fat-burning enzyme. Though this has been proven, the mechanism hasn’t (yet).

We think that it makes perfect sense. Your body’s cells, especially those in your brain, have a preference for glucose. If you’re sitting, your blood pools in your legs, meaning your heart and brain get a lower volume of blood. Although the blood volume available to your brain decreases, your brain’s demand for glucose does not. So your blood sugar rises (again, found in the research), leaving less room for free fatty acids in your blood, so fat burning gets down-regulated.

Weak Metabolism Means All Sorts of Health Issues

Health and obesity researchers have increasingly discovered that the collection of modern western diseases (Diabetes, Cancer, Heart Disease) stem from “Metabolic Syndrome”. In other words, the stuff that causes these illnesses is the same stuff that causes obesity. And it is very likely that sitting increases risk of death, principally, by causing metabolic syndrome.

This flowchart sums it up nicely:

Exactly How Sitting Kills People

Click image to view full size.

If you prefer the condensed version:

Exactly How Sitting Kills People

Click image to view full size.

So That’s It? Sitting is bad because…blood?!

We think that’s the main contributor, yes. Certainly, there are non-blood aspects of sitting that are detrimental. Studies show that more time sitting at work is correlated with less time being active at home. Mobility professionals like Kelly Starrett are quick to point out that your backside is simply not made for sitting on – and that doing so results in myofascial adhesion, tissue shortening, and muscle damage.

Sitting is also such a passive position that the lymphatic system, which relies on muscle contractions to transport large molecules, is also underutilized. If you dig this stuff, stay tuned, as we’ll cover the subject in depth in future posts.

And a standing desk at work will certainly help address those myofascial issues (especially if your desk is configured correctly). But it’s important to stand right, because when it comes to blood flow, impaired metabolism, and disease – standing still is just as bad as sitting. That’s why we keep hammering on improving your movement at your standing desk, and why movement is a massive component of our transition plan.

For those of you with standing desks – did you experience any weight loss or increased hunger when you made the switch? Let us know in the comments.

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16 Comments

  1. […] I’ll bet that graph gets you excited to enjoy the reduced spinal pressure of healthy standing! Don’t miss Part 3 – Improve Your Movement. It is very important. […]

    September 20, 2014
    Reply
  2. Chris said:

    I lost a lot of weight at the same time I was switching to a standing desk and felt way healthier but honestly I thought most of that was because I was doing crossfit and eating paleo the whole time too. I did start crossfit a while before standing, and i think i was less sore when i was standing, but i had also been doing crossfit longer. Do you think that standing could do that?

    October 1, 2014
    Reply
    • Kit Perkins said:

      Hey Chris,

      Standing right can definitely improve recovery time! Athletic recovery is all about getting nutrients to your cells. Standing right means better blood flow, and that means more nutrients to your cells.

      October 1, 2014
      Reply
  3. Jeannie said:

    I actually got way less hungry when I switched to standing. How does that happen?!

    October 1, 2014
    Reply
    • Kit Perkins said:

      Hey Jeannie,

      Standing (right) improves blood flow and therefore your metabolism. It also just plain burns more calories. Sitting causes your metabolism to perform badly because it isn’t being tested much. If you were living really well away from your desk, you were probably eating about the right amount – so you noticed the increase in your metabolic activity when standing in the form of increased hunger.

      Most people who sit a lot are operating at a surplus, with metabolic inefficiency. So when they stand (right), their metabolism ramps up, but gets more efficient, so the surplus goes away, their blood sugar control improves, and they experience fewer eery swings and cravings.

      Does that make sense?

      October 1, 2014
      Reply
  4. […] is that they allow you to move more. We’ve covered that before. We’ve also said that blood flow is incredibly important, and that humans are designed to have healthy blood flow only when our calves flex regularly, as […]

    December 28, 2014
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