By Dr. Mercola
If you spend a lot of time working on a computer, changing your routine to regularly interrupt your sitting (by simply standing up or doing a few jump squats, for instance) can make a major difference in your health and risk of chronic disease.
However, research is now showing that standing up may also influence the way you think and interact with others, helping to boost your productivity and even support creative thinking.
Standing Up May Lead to More Productive Meetings
At typical meetings, people sit at a table in their own chairs with their own notebooks and personal space. This set-up promotes an individually oriented mindset right off the bat, even if the purpose of the meeting is to collaborate and share thoughts.
Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri set out to determine what would happen when groups of students worked together without chairs, and the impact was significant.
When participants worked in rooms without chairs, group arousal (as measured via special sensors worn on their wrists) was increased, which suggests increased collaboration.1 The study's authors noted:2
"A primary function of arousal is to signal the importance or significance of environmental stimuli and prepare the body for action… In social situations, joint experiences of arousal promote affiliation and collective sensemaking, both of which are essential for motivating collective action."
What's more, the standing groups also had significantly decreased territorial behavior and increased sharing of information and ideas, just by getting up and out of their chairs!
The results spoke for themselves, with the researchers advising that people organizing workspaces for meetings should encourage standing instead of sitting, as well as add in a collaborative focal point, such as a whiteboard, to encourage participants to work together.
You Needn't Invest in Fancy Standing Workstations to Avoid the Ill Effects of Sitting
While you can create your own standing workspace using closet shelving or a counter-height table, this can be challenging because you need to be sure the height is ergonomically correct to avoid hunching over.
There is another simple alternative, however. Like many of you, I too spend far too many hours a day sitting in front of my computer and actually started to experience the health repercussions of excessive sitting in my late 40s.
I gradually developed back pain and could not stand for long periods of times without pain. I also become more rigid and less flexible. What was really astonishing, though, is that this all happened in spite of exercising six or more hours per week.
So this is what I now do: get up at least four times every hour (or every 15 minutes) and do some of the exercises shown in the Lisa Huck videos below. It's as simple as that. Alternatively, you can combine two or three in a three-minute break once or twice every hour.
The more frequently you get out of your seat, the better, however, because the frequency is the most important aspect. Based on double-blind research conducted by NASA's Dr. Joan Vernikos, the minimum number of times you need to interrupt your sitting in order to counteract its cardiovascular health risks is in the neighborhood of 35 times per day.
Her research clearly shows that sitting down and standing up repeatedly for 35 minutes does NOT have the same effect as standing up once, 35 times over the course of the entire day. In order to be effective, the activity needs to be spread out. This helps explain why vigorously exercising a few times a week still isn't enough to counteract the ill effects of daily prolonged sitting.
9 Intermittent Movements for Beginners: Do These Right at Your Desk
The following videos, featuring Jill Rodriguez, offer a series of helpful intermittent movement beginner exercises you can do right at your desk. For a demonstration of each technique, please see the corresponding video in the table below. I suggest you take a break to do one set of three exercises, anywhere from once every 15 minutes, to once per hour.
Technique #1: Standing Neck-Stretch: Hold for 20 seconds on each side.
Technique #2: Shoulder Blade Squeeze: Round your shoulders, then pull them back and pull down. Repeat for 20-30 seconds.
Technique #3: Standing Hip Stretch: Holding on to your desk, cross your left leg over your right thigh and "sit down" by bending your right leg. Repeat on the other side.
Technique #4: The Windmill: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, then pivot your feet to the right. Push your hip out to the left. Raising your left arm skyward, and your right arm toward the floor, lower your body toward the floor while looking up, then raise your torso back to standing position. Repeat on the other side.
Technique #5: Side Lunge: Starting with your feet together, take a medium step sideways, and bend down as if you're about to sit. Use your arms for balance by reaching out in front of you. Return to starting position, and repeat 10-20 times. Repeat on the other side.
Technique #6: Desk Push-Up: Place hand a little wider than shoulder-width apart on your desk. Come up on your toes to make it easier to tip forward. Lower your chest to the edge of the desk, and push back up. Do 10 repetitions.
Technique #7: Squat to Chair: With your feet shoulder-width apart, sit down, reaching forward with your hands, and stand back up in quick succession. Do 15-20 repetitions.
Technique #8: Single Leg Dead Lift: Place your right hand on your desk, and place your weight on your right leg. Fold your torso forward, while simultaneously lifting your left leg backward. Do 10 repetitions on each side.
Technique #9: Mountain Climber: Get into a push-up position on the floor. Pull your right knee forward to touch your right wrist or arm, then return to push-up position. Repeat on the other side. Try to pick up the pace, and do 20 quick repetitions.
Standing Neck Stretch Shoulder Blade Squeezes Standing/Seated Hip Stretch Windmill Side Lunge Push-Up Squat to Chair Single Leg Dead Lift Mountain Climber
10 More Advanced Exercises to Interrupt Your Sitting
If you've moved beyond the beginner exercises, try these more advanced suggestions from fitness expert Lisa Huck. These movements are the ones I'm currently working with to interrupt my sitting. (I suggest bookmarking this article so you can easily find all of these helpful videos, demonstrating each movement.) Again, ideally, you'll want to do at least one of these exercises every 15 minutes, or combine two or three in a three-minute break once or twice every hour.
#1: Standing Hip Flexor Stretch
#2: Standing Calf Stretch
#3: Standing Inner Thigh Stretch
#4: Standing Back/Buttocks Stretch
#5: Kneeling Lunge Matrix
#6: Hip Flexor, Hamstring, and Quad Stretch
#7: Side Line Twisting Back Stretch
#8: Chest Stretch
#9: Back Butt Stretch
#10: Pole Stretch for the Back
Why Is Intermittent Movement So Important, Physically?
Standing up during meetings clearly appears to have benefits for productivity and creative collaboration, but there's reason to interrupt your sitting even if you're working alone. For instance, a recent analysis of 18 studies found that those who sat for the longest periods of time were twice as likely to have diabetes or heart disease, compared to those who sat the least.3 According to lead researcher Thomas Yates, MD:4
"Even for people who are otherwise active, sitting for long stretches seems to be an independent risk factor for conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease."
An earlier study, published in 2009, also highlighted much of the evidence linking sitting with biomarkers of poor metabolic health, showing how total sitting time correlates with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other prevalent chronic health problems—even if you exercise regularly.5 According to the authors:
"Even if people meet the current recommendation of 30 minutes of physical activity on most days each week, there may be significant adverse metabolic and health effects from prolonged sitting -- the activity that dominates most people's remaining 'non-exercise' waking hours."
Remember, this isn't only important for people who spend long hours doing computer work. It applies to couch potatoes and inactive seniors, as well. Last year, a Swedish study concluded that those who live a generally active life have better heart health and live longer than those who remain sedentary for most of the day.6 This held true even for those who didn't engage in a regular exercise routine. If you're older, you'd be wise to make a concerted effort to spend more time doing low-intensity, everyday activities—anything, really, to cut down on the time you spend in a seated position. In the Swedish study, participants who were signed up at the age of 60 were tracked for more than 12 years, and the findings were quite telling:7
- Those who reported overall higher levels of daily intermittent movement suffered fewer heart-related problems
- For every 100 of the sedentary people who experienced a heart attack or stroke, only 73 of the highly active group had such an event
- For every 100 of the least active who died, only 70 of the most active died
- Those who had high daily activity levels and engaged in a regular exercise program had the lowest risk profiles overall
Regularly Standing Up from a Seated Position May Be More Effective for Your Health Than Walking
If you spend a lot of time sitting, please realize that the act of standing up from your chair can be a powerful tool to improve your health. Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA's Life Sciences Division and author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, has focused research on finding out what type of movement is withdrawn by sitting. What she discovered was astounding. She found it is the change in posture that acts against gravity that is the most powerful, in terms of having a beneficial impact on your health. Regularly standing up from a seated position was in fact found to be more effective than walking! According to Dr. Vernikos:
"The key to lifelong health is more than just traditional gym exercise, three to five times a week. The answer is to rediscover a lifestyle of constant, natural low-intensity non-exercise movement that uses the gravity vector throughout the day."
The word "gravity vector" reveals Dr. Vernikos' background and expertise with anti-gravity. She was in fact one of the primary doctors assigned to keep NASA astronauts from deteriorating in space. In an anti-gravity situation, your body deteriorates at a far more rapid pace, and interestingly enough, sitting for an extended period of time simulates a low-gravity type environment for your body. Activities such as housecleaning, rolling dough, gardening, hanging clothes to dry, bending over to pick up a stray sock, reaching for an item on a high shelf... all of these fall within the spectrum of movements you would ideally engage in—more or less continuously—during daily life, from morning until night.
Dr. Vernikos refers to these types of activities as "G habits." The reason why they're so critical for your health is that when you move, you increase the force of gravity on your body. Again, anti-gravity environments speed up cellular deterioration, so the key is to disengage from the gravity vector—this low anti-gravity situation—as much as possible. For more information, please watch my interview with Dr. Vernikos below.
Simple Tricks for Getting More Activity Into Your Day at the Office
It's easier than you might think to "sneak" activity into your day, even if you work in an office environment. Using a pedometer is one trick that will help you assess how many steps you take throughout your work day; then simply make a concerted effort to continuously increase the number of steps you take daily. Simple changes to the way you move about the office can add up, such as:
- Walking across the hall to talk to a coworker instead of sending an email
- Taking the stairs instead of the elevator
- Parking your car further away from the entrance
- Taking a longer, roundabout way to your desk
- Doing a few laps around your office building, or climbing the stairwells, at lunchtime
As discussed, hold standing-only office meetings is also a great idea for increasing productivity, and as an added bonus this also tends to discourage unnecessary discourse and make meetings more efficient. Making slight alterations to your individual workspace can also make a difference. For example, you can organize the layout of your office space in such a way that you have to stand up to reach oft-used files, the telephone, or your printer, rather than having everything within easy reach.8 Or, try using an exercise ball for a chair. Unlike sitting in a chair, sitting on an exercise ball engages your core muscles and helps improve balance and flexibility.
Occasional bouncing can also help your body interact with gravity to a greater degree than sitting on a stationary chair. Alternatively, use an upright wooden chair with no armrest, which will force you to sit up straight, and encourage shifting your body more frequently than a cushy office chair. For even more tips, in the video below, Dr. Jeff Spencer, a wellness chiropractor to some of the "world's greatest" athletes and performing artists, shares his tips on how to stay active at the workplace.