Standing at desk may help with pain, burn more calories than sitting

Published Jan. 23, 2014

Ask an expert how to establish a fitness habit and chances are you'll hear something like this:

Find an activity that fits your life, and is easy to include in your daily routine.

That's good, but I propose taking it a step further:

Find an activity that fits your life, and is hard NOT to include in your daily routine.

Here's what I mean: Like many writers, editors and binge TV watchers, I do a lot of sitting. Chairs, sofas, floors, rocks, you name it, I can sit on it. Not to be immodest, but I excel at sitting.

Lately, though, my pride in this accomplishment has been tempered. You may have noticed news reports claiming that sitting may be as bad for us as cancer, obesity and large vehicles piloted by texting teens. A few headlines just from this month:

• "Are you sitting down? Your heart failure risk is higher'' (Detroit Free Press)

• ''Sitting at Work for Hours Can Be as Unhealthy as Smoking''(CBS News)

• "Too Much Sitting Raises Early Death Risk'' (Huffington Post)

This latest outburst of sitting-is-deadly news mostly comes courtesy of a report in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association. Researchers studied 84,170 men ages 45 to 69, and found that over eight years, guys who spent five or more hours a day sitting were 34 percent more likely to develop heart failure than those who sat for no more than two hours.

(Really? Who can sit for no more than two hours in a day?)

And even a tough gym workout doesn't fully compensate for the effects of too much sitting.

Even more convincing to me is the fact that after a day slaving over a hot computer my right hip hurts. I try to get up and walk around every hour, which is easy to include in my daily routine — and easy to forget about.

A few weeks ago, I was complaining about this to my newsroom neighbor Amber McDonald, our social media editor. She said her back aches, and she suspected how she sits all day had a lot to do with it.

So we looked into desks that would allow us to work while standing. You can spend thousands on fancy models that move up and down automatically. Or you can create your own setup with a few items from Ikea. (Google "A standing desk for $22'' and you'll find the instructions we used.)

A few of our colleagues have similar setups. One editor remarked that we are making the place look like a game of Whack-a-Mole, but I don't expect to be pounded on the head with a wooden mallet. A friend of Amber's remarked that he's too lazy to stand at work. To which Amber astutely observed: We're already working. What's lazy about that?

Mostly, our co-workers are interested to see how the experiment goes.

One immediate benefit: Standing burns more calories than sitting, and though we haven't been doing this long enough to lose weight, we do feel warmer, a good thing on chilly days.

Plus, my hip doesn't hurt. And I get to plop down on the sofa after work, without guilt.

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I could dismantle the new setup in a few minutes. But that would involve messing around with all these wires in the back of the computer. My hip would hurt, I'd be cold — and it would be awkward to admit defeat.

All of which makes standing at work an activity that fits my life and is hard not to do. I'll keep you posted on our progress, and welcome hearing from any other recovering sitters.