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"Standing Up" for Your Health

The choice between standing and sitting might be as important as choosing to eat better or exercise more.

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(Image originally excerpted from the larger infographic series created by Medical Billing And Coding. Update 1/2/14: Image source no longer available at original URL.)

Are you sitting down as you read this?

Maybe you shouldn't be. Maybe you should stand up while you finish reading this post. In fact, I stopped in drafting this piece... to stand up. It's true. It seemed wrong to sit down while writing a piece about the power of standing up! So I stood up. But then I couldn't easily reach my keyboard to type. I'm industrious, however... so I scrounged around my office space and found a box that seemed about the right height and a large plastic lid I could put on top of the box so that I had ample room for my keyboard and mouse. So here I am, standing up... typing. Granted, my monitor is a bit too low in this scenario. I may have to look into elevating it. A stack of already-read or just-in-case reference books might just do the trick.

So why am I standing up?

Because recent reports suggest that all that "sitting" we do in a regular day could be shortening our lives in measurable—and frightening—ways. At the very least, sitting down for six or more hours a day reportedly increases the risk of heart attack by more than 50%.

An infographic that has been making rounds on the Internet recently might have you think twice about how much time you spend sitting at a desk, on the couch, in restaurants, in a car, at a computer, or just hanging out with friends. We all know the phrase couch potato, but when you weigh the statistics in the series of images that make up the "Sitting is Killing You" campaign, you might find the scales tipping in favor of... standing up.

Still sitting?

You're not alone. The stats suggest that on average, we sit more than 9 hours a day.


The Nitty Gritty on Sitting Down

The infographic puts a grim face on the numbers, but if you poke around, you'll turn up other stories of people who now stand up (when they used to sit down). For example, in an article in a popular men's magazine, the staff admitted that they, too, are standing up more because the studies done comparing sitting and standing... are staggering. Here's how one writer summarized the findings: "it doesn't matter how much you exercise or how well you eat. If you sit most of the day, your risk of leaving this world clutching your chest—whether you're a man or women—as much as doubles."

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Click the image above to view the full infographic from Medical Billing And Coding. Update 1/2/14: Image source no longer available at original URL; link removed.


Standing in a Sit-Down World

Converting a sit-down mentality to a stand-up one involves some obvious changes but also might require a bit of creative thinking. For example, many office jobs (including mine) involve sitting most of the workday at a desk. The stand-up alternative takes the shape of "standup desks," apparently already popular in many health-conscious offices. But chucking the office chair and standing up for six or more hours a day? Doesn't it make your feet/legs/back hurt? Doesn't the floor beneath you, the shoes you wear, and even the ergonomics of how your computer monitor and keyboard is positioned relative to your height, all suddenly come into play as variables that before were minimized by sitting down? Doesn't posture become a new and different problem? What happens if you stand with your legs this way or that way?

There are definitely new elements to explore and avenues to research. Still... maybe you should stand up. At least stand up and walk down the hall. Taking more breaks, in fact, and just getting up and moving around before you return to your desk and chair might be a good starting point—even if you aren't ready to chuck the chair.


From the Couch

How much time do you spend sitting in a desk at school? Watching tv? Playing handheld video games? Do you sit down in the coffee shop or bakery? Have you ever thought about standing at the taller "counter" instead of using the chair?
Go on. Add it all up and then factor in the reality that it's summer, and despite the extra opportunity that gives you to be outdoors and exploring favorite pastimes or sports, you might find that you sit down even more with summer's slower-paced, kick-back schedule.

So what can you do?

You might start by figuring out "what" you spend your "sitting" time doing. Can you stand up and do the same thing? Talk on the phone? Check. Play mobile games? Check. Eat lunch? Check. Read your newest manga? Check. You might be surprised to discover that when you really think about it, you can stand up and do many of the things you enjoy. (I'm surprised that I'm still standing here as I type this blog post!)

You might even be able to make a compelling case for playing Wii a bit more than playing your handheld device, particularly if, like most of us, you stand up while you play your Wii games. (Tip: don't sit down when it's not your turn. Just stand to the side.)


Making Connections

When I first saw a write-up about sitting down in Mashable and then studied the infographic series, it seemed to me like there might be room in this issue for interesting and health-conscious student-based inquiry.

After looking over the series of poster-style graphics, our lead staff scientist, Sandra, confirmed that even without dealing with mortality, there are angles that might be explored in student science investigations. For example:

  • One of the graphics talks about the "angle" of the body during sitting and how sitting at various angles exerts different levels of force on the spine. A student could explore this by building a biomechanical model for testing, similar to the model of the knee at the heart of the Deep Knee Bends: Measuring Knee Stress with a Mechanical Model project.

  • Track individual movements over a period of time by keeping a journal that documents how much time you normally "sit" or "stand" over a 2-week period. Use a stop watch and start timing your sitting intervals each day, giving yourself not only a look at how much time you spend sitting doing certain kinds of on-your-rear activities, but also how much cumulative time you spend letting your butt muscles coast. (Tip: look up gluteal amnesia.) After analyzing your patterns and your own numbers, spend time brainstorming simple (and low-cost or no-cost) changes you can make to increase the amount of time you spend standing. Then put those changes in place over two weeks, again tracking your time spent sitting.

  • Conduct a similar tracking experiment with people of varying ages, in varying situations, or among your peers. Could you get a group of teachers to participate tracking time spent sitting and standing? Can you follow up your data tracking by having participants evaluate how they "felt" (both physically and emotionally) during the weeks in which they were making more deliberate "stand up" choices? Are there changes that can be implemented schoolwide, for instance, that could help build better "stand up" behaviors and a more health-conscious approach? (Think about it... everyone wants students off the couch at home but puts them in chairs for much of the day at school.)

  • Think about the power of a "visual" approach to presenting materials like this. Is it more effective than presenting data in a written or oral report? Taking this kind of data and turning it into a video or computer application is another approach you might consider. Using a programming environment like Scratch, how might you create an interactive display of materials designed to encourage people to "stand up"? For a similar project that takes heart-health as a premise for developing a Scratch application, see the Save a Life! Teach Hands-OnlyTM CPR project.


Surprisingly Easy

I'm going to sit down now. Did I feel strange standing up typing this piece? A bit. Was I really aware of how it felt to be "standing"? Yes. Did I wonder about posture, about shifting my weight one way and another, about whether standing with feet apart or even spread might be better or worse? Yes. Was I comfortable standing? It wasn't bad, really. Did my makeshift keyboard platform work? Yes. Could my stand up system use some tweaking? Yes. (The large plastic lid I was using wasn't totally enough space to make my mouse easy to use next to the keyboard). Did the monitor being low cause a problem? It was better once I realized it has a tilt mechanism, so I was able to swivel it "up," which gave me a better angle on the screen. Did I sort of "get used to standing up" during the span of time it took to draft this piece? Absolutely. Total time spent standing that I would otherwise have spent sitting... around an hour. Will I stand up again? You bet!

Will you?



(Science Buddies projects in the area of Human Health and Biology are sponsored by Medtronic Foundation.
Projects in Computer Science are sponsored by Symantec, and projects in the area of Video and Computer Games are sponsored by AMD.)

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