Can something as simple as standing for a few hours each day improve your health?
Yes, according to a slew of studies on sedentary behavior completed in the last few years. Evidence suggests that lengthy, uninterrupted sitting time—like the time you spend hunched over in front of a computer—can slow your metabolism, erode bone mineral content, lead to a decrease in the production of ‘good’ cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
That research gave rise to a new workplace trend: ergonomically-designed ‘standing desks’ that allow workers to remain upright at their computers.
Enter Dr. Steven Stovitz, a physician at UMPhysicians’ Orthopaedic Clinic and Lifestyle Medicine Program for Weight Management. Stovitz, a standing desk convert, is here to help us sort through the science behind the new trend.
UMPhysicians: Can you summarize your medical experience and professional background?
Dr. Steven Stovitz: I am a physician who completed a residency in family medicine, a fellowship in sports medicine and a Master of Science in clinical research
UMPhysicians: How did you initially become interested in this topic?
Stovitz: I pursued a career in medicine in order to try and prevent and treat health problems. Medical training is very heavy on the treatment and very light on the prevention. Avoiding prolonged sedentary behavior is one of the key things a person can do in order to prevent illness.
UMPhysicians: Have you made the switch from a sitting desk to a standing desk in your workplace?
Stovitz: Yes, I use a standing desk. Mentally, it improves my concentration. Physically, it’s not so much improvement as a lack of deterioration that I notice from simply standing as opposed to sitting. As I age, I view lack of deterioration as a benefit. Standing also makes the transition to increased activity easier.
UMPhysicians: What are the health risks related to excessive sitting? How do you define ‘excessive’?
Stovitz: Sitting too much seems to worsen back pain in some. Most people sit with their pelvis tilted backwards and thus assume an uncomfortable posture. Plus, there’s the increasing research that prolonged sitting is associated with risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
UMPhysicians: Conversely, can too much standing be a bad thing?
Stovitz: I imagine that too much standing could be bad. Humans need rest. It’s just that in modern society in the U.S., lack of physical rest doesn’t seem to be very common.
UMPhysicians: How do you strike an appropriate balance between sitting and standing?
Stovitz: Sitting time is not hard to find, since I am not a manual laborer. This may be different for people who work in jobs such as farming and/or construction. In order to find enough standing time I try to stand when doing computer work, when at my kids’ sporting events, when on the phone and, if possible, during meetings. Oh, yes, also during interviews such as this.
UMPhysicians: What daily work routines do you recommend to your patients at the Lifestyle Medicine Program for Weight Management?
Stovitz: We aim to individualize strategies, so it is somewhat different for each patient. Still, some general suggestions are as follows:
- Try to find an area in your home where you can have a standing work station, especially when on computerized devices.
- Use a pedometer. Since you must stand to walk, people who use a pedometer may find themselves standing in order to accumulate small numbers of steps throughout the day.
- Stand when on the phone.
- If possible, have standing meetings.