By Stephen Bowden – Chartered Ergonomist
Why standing from sitting and keeping active is vital for your health and wellbeing
Cars, trains, planes, mobile phones, desktop computers, tablet computers, mobile phone applications, online food delivery companies, comfortable ‘ergonomic’ chairs, escalators and lifts, modern offices are just a few examples of technology/designs that reduce the amount of movement the human body makes on a day to day basis. There is no argument that the above list of modern technology improves our productivity but at what cost to our health and wellbeing?
Modern technology has increased the amount of time we spend sitting and has robbed us of normal low intensity, high frequency movements such as standing up that the human body is designed to participate in. Reducing exposure of the human body to these normal everyday movements has been shown to directly affect our health and wellbeing.
Exercise and low intensity/high frequency movements
We all know that keeping fit is good for us and can help increase both our life expectancy and quality of life. Exercise and health is promoted to us in the modern world from a multitude of angles including, advertising and marketing, friends and families and now even many employers. However, with busy schedules, long working hours and long commutes it can be hard to fit in the time to keep fit.
If you are reading this thinking to yourself, yes that explains how I feel, there is an option to help maintain your health and wellbeing.
Think about our ancestors 1000s of years ago. Did they go to the gym, did they ride bicycles or compete in triathlons? I would guess the answer to this question is no. Our ancestors carried out high frequency low intensity movements such as standing from sitting, sitting from standing, walking, harvesting and farming. The key words here are low intensity and high frequency movements which moves us nicely onto the subject called Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT).
Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis is a term coined by James Levine an exercise physiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. NEAT is the energy we use each day for everything excluding sleeping, eating, or sport like activities.
NEAT consists of movements such as standing up from sitting, fidgeting, bending down/squatting to pick something up and cleaning your house. These normal everyday movements add up. NEAT has been shown to use more of your bodies total energy expenditure during a normal day than short high intensity sport-like exercise such as running, riding a bike or working out in a gym. The bulk of energy we use is not from the 30 minutes run of an evening it’s from all the small NEAT movements we complete while we are awake.
Next time you stand up from your desk think about how this simple everyday movement helps contribute to your NEAT.
Risks of sedentary postures on the human body
It’s clear to see we are all living longer but have you ever thought are we living healthier?
The Centre for Disease Control in the USA found that 80% of Americans do not do enough moving or exercise on a regular basis and estimated in 2012 that were 29 million Type-2 diabetics in the USA.
Below is a list of sedentary lifestyle risks:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Low cardio respiratory fitness
- Increased risk of Musculoskeletal disorders
- Immune system suppression
- Heart disease
- Increased risk of some cancers
Interestingly, Blair (2009), followed 40,000 people to death over a 16 year period. Blair found that the leading cause of early death was low cardio respiratory fitness (CRF). Interestingly, the common diseases we are advised that are the main cause of early death are obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes which combined Blair found did not have the same risk as low CRF.
Blair also suggested that becoming moderately fit reduces chances of early death generally by 50%
The importance of standing up
As a Chartered Ergonomist, I’m often asked by clients who work within offices how long they should sit or stand for at work. My first response is, “It’s not how long you sit or stand for, it’s how often you interrupt sitting or standing that is important”.
Although standing will burn more calories than sitting as shown by Dr. Mark Benden (2011) at the Texas A & M Ergonomics Centre, standing is still a relatively sedentary posture. The human body is not designed to sit or stand all day, it is designed to move.
How normal everyday movements help to improve health and wellbeing
Joan Vernikos, a former Life Scientist at NASA has highlighted the importance of the human body working against gravity with low intensity high frequency movements. One of Vernikos’s roles at NASA was to understand how the astronaut’s anatomy and physiology performed in micro gravity.
In micro gravity, the human body is not exposed to the gravity we are used to living in on earth. The lack of exposure to gravity affects the human body examples of which are listed below:
- Increase in bone density loss
- Loss of muscle mass
- Reduction in balance and coordination
- Immune system suppression
- Impact on blood pressure regulation
- Cardio respiratory fitness affected
From the moment we are born, then moving into childhood and adulthood, we use gravity to develop physiology, form and function. The human body develops by working against gravity during activities such as playing, jumping skipping etc. In the modern world, as discussed, technology and our modern way of life has reduced the need for movement against gravity which affects the human body in a similar way to the astronaut’s anatomy and physiology in micro gravity.
Joan Vernikos work showed that it takes at least 32 times (spread throughout the day) from sitting to standing to help reduce some of the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
More and more studies are showing the negative effects of being sedentary even if you’re physically fit and active. Rebecca Seguin, (2014), from Cornell University showed that more everyday movement such as movement inside and outside the house on top of exercise is important for maintaining health. She states “the assumption has been that if you’re fit and physically active, that will protect you, even if you spend a huge amount of time sitting each day. In fact, in doing so you are far less protected from negative health effects of being sedentary that you realise”.
The human body is designed to move. In recent times, modern technology has robbed us of normal everyday movements such as regularly standing up. The research shows that even if you go to the gym, keep fit and are generally active, this does not negate the risk of long periods of sedentary postures whether sitting or standing.
Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) has shown to burn more calories during the day than short burst of intense exercise.
Low intensity and high-volume movements such as standing from sitting at least 32 times per day (spread throughout the entire day) may help to reduce some of the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
- Benden, M.E., Blake, J.J., Wendel, M.L., Huber Jr., J.C. “The Impact of Stand-Biased Desks in Classrooms on Calorie Expenditure in Children” American Journal Public Health (2011) : 101 (8)
- Blair SN. Br J Sports Med 2009; 43:1-2
- Seguin, R., et al “Sedentary Behavior and Mortality in Older Women, The Women’s Health Initiative” Amer. J. Prev Med. (Feb 2014): 46: 122-135
- Vernikos, J V, 2011. Sitting Kills Moving Heals. 1st ed. California: Quill Driver Books
- Vernikos, J V, 2016. Designed to Move. 1st ed. California: Quill Driver Books
Stephen Bowden BSc (Hons) C.ErgHF MIEHF EurErg. Chartered Ergonomist.
Stephen is experienced in Ergonomics and Human Factors ensuring an integrated approach between humans, machines and work systems within industrial, office, manufacturing, defense and aerospace.
Stephen has a specialist interest in ergonomics approach to wellbeing and the association between ergonomics, wellbeing and productivity.
For more information visit www.morganmaxwell.co.uk