The University of Chester has carried out an unusual experiment, the first of its kind in the UK, looking at the effects of standing versus sitting in a small group of volunteers. Studies have claimed major health benefits for standing for much of the day as opposed to sitting.
Guess how many hours a day you spend sitting? Fewer than eight hours? More than 10 hours? A recent survey found that many of us spend up to 12 hours a day sitting on our bottoms looking at computers or watching television. If you throw in the seven hours we spend sleeping then that adds up to a remarkable 19 hours a day being inactive.
Sitting down as much as this is clearly bad for us and some studies suggest that those who sit all day live around two years less than those who are more active. Most of us are guilty of excess sitting. We sit at work, in the car and at home, moving only to shift from one seat to another. If you exercise on a regular basis that may not even be enough. There is mounting evidence that exercise will not undo the damage done by prolonged sitting. Our technology has made us the most sedentary humans in history.
So why is sitting so damaging?
One thing it does is change the way our bodies deal with sugar. When you eat, your body breaks down the food into glucose, which is then transported in the blood to other cells. Glucose is an essential fuel but persistently high levels increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Your pancreas produces the hormone insulin to help get your glucose levels back down to normal, but how efficiently your body does that is affected by how physically active you are.
Benefit of standing up
The evidence that standing up is good for you goes back to at least the 1950s when a study was done comparing bus conductors (who stand) with bus drivers (who don't). This study, published in the Lancet, showed that the bus conductors had around half the risk of developing heart disease of the bus drivers.
Since then prolonged sitting has not only been linked to problems with blood glucose control, but also a sharp reduction in the activity of an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase, which breaks down blood fats and makes them available as a fuel to the muscles. This reduction in enzyme activity leads to raised levels of triglycerides and fats in the blood, increasing the risk of heart disease.
Dr Buckley of the University of Chester said “We can't all stand up at work but the researchers believe that even small adjustments, like standing while talking on the phone, going over to talk to a colleague rather than sending an email, or simply taking the stairs, will help”.