Don’t Sit Down: Exercise and Stand Tall

Several recent studies showed that people who sat for ten hours or more a day, had a greater propensity for developing dementia. One expert at the Mayo Clinic urges positioning a workstation above a treadmill.

| 12 Feb 2024 | 10:08

It is probably no surprise that sitting for 10 hours before your personal computer or on a couch watching tv definitely works against your physical and mental well being. Some experts say that even if you add exercise after such a long sedentary stretch, it may not be enough. You need to stand tall, walk more–and maybe add a work station above your treadmill.

In two studies published last November, researchers in California, Arizona and England reported that sitting too many hours a day increases the risk of dementia for adults older than 60. The data making his point comes from observing more than 100,000 UK and US volunteers. Clear-minded at the start, they agreed to wear accelerometers (wrist devices that measure movement) for 24 hours a day for one week. This allowed the study authors to compare different types of activity such as sitting versus sleeping which offered a straight forward picture of time spent in different types of sedentary behaviors. After six years’ follow up, inpatient hospital records and death certificates showed more than 400 cases of dementia among those who spent 10 hours or more sitting.

With your legs, there is a use-it-or-lose-it proposition. Failing to exercise the leg and glute (buttocks) muscles that keep you upright increases your risk of falling. At the same time, not moving much may shorten your back flexors, the muscles attached to the front of your spine that allow you to bend forward as well as lift and arch your lower back. The result? Poor posture accelerated by compression of the spinal discs. Ouch.

And let’s not forget your most important muscle: Your heart. In one study reported by the Mayo Clinic, lots of sitting seemed to raise the risk of heart attack or stroke by 147 percent. In fact, men who spent more than 23 hours a week in front of the TV were 64 percent more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than those who only watched for 11 hours.

Staying glued to your chair can cause blood to pool in your legs leading to varicose veins and, in the worst case, deep vein thrombosis. That creates a condition where blood clots can may break off and travel to other parts of the body.

Finally, Mayo Clinic sports medicine specialist Edward R. Laskowski notes other drawbacks of relative immobility: Extra pounds piled on because your body is reducing the number of specific molecules that help process dietary fats and sugars, leaving them loose to migrate into fat cells.

Is it any wonder that all this may lead to a heightened risk of anxiety and depression? Ordinarily, the simple answer would seem to be to get up and exercise. One Harvard study cautions that exercise alone didn’t seem to change the odds. Sad to say, University of Southern California biologist David Raichlen says that among people who sat for 10 hours or more a day, those who worked out were as prone to dementia as those who exercised very little.

Mayo’s Dr. Laskowski disagrees. His more optimistic/ pragmatic view spells out four straight steps to better. In order, from start to finish: “Stand while talking on the phone or watching television. If you work at a desk, try a standing desk—or improvise with a high table or counter. Walk with your colleagues for meetings rather than sitting in a conference room. Position your work surface above a treadmill—with a computer screen and keyboard on a stand or a specialized treadmill-ready vertical desk—so that you can be in motion throughout the day.”

Ready. Set. Stand.