January 30, 2014

We’ve seen it and we’ve felt it: sitting at the desk, stretching or rubbing the neck, struggling to keep focused due to the pain of sitting so long. We know it’s uncomfortable, but it seems there’s little to be done about it. And what has it got to do with losing weight?

The most obvious answer is that it means we’re sitting for too long being inactive and so we burn less calories, but it’s actually a bit more complicated than just that.

When sitting for long periods, people suffer spinal compression leading to sore backs, stiff necks and aching shoulders. Compression to the back of the thighs leads to sore knees and slower circulation. Metabolism slows, flexibility reduces and muscles are not being used. This all means that blood flow to the brain is reduced, and cognitive function can also be affected.

So you exercise every day? That’s great, but even exercising regularly is not enough to counter the many hours each day spent commuting, sitting at work, and watching TV. Think about the number of hours each day you spend exercising compared to the number of hours sitting. It’s pretty scary. This is made worse if you don’t have ‘perfect’ posture. Do you ever slouch? Do you ever hunch over? Do you ever crane your neck or squint at your computer screen? What about your posture when watching TV?

There are many options, some very expensive, when it comes to ergonomic office furniture. Some of these options are helpful and some provide little more benefit that standard supply. There is one option, however, that seems to outrank all others: the standing desk.

Creating your own standing desk may be as simple as adding a platform to your desk for your computer and keyboard to rest on. This elevates the height and allows you to stand while you work. Then, if you need to sit, you can pull up a chair and sit. If this involves lifting your computer off the stand, so be it.

Times when you need full concentration on the task at hand may mean that you need to sit, as do occupations such as data entry, and those juggling many tasks at once. For most people these types of tasks do not continue throughout the day, every day, so most of us can stand most of the time, sitting only when required.

So what’s all this got to do with weight loss? Standing requires more energy than sitting, and once standing it’s easier to make small movements that also add to our energy burn. Standing is more comfortable in supportive shoes, such as runners, so wearing these at work may also make you more inclined to move around than if you were wearing your dress shoes. Muscles are activated, posture is better – because if it’s not we fall over! Metabolism improves and we become more efficient at burning stored body fat.

If you can’t use a standing desk, there are many ways to get more movement into your work day. Volunteer for errands, have a standing meeting, stand up for every phone call, take regular movement breaks – you can even set reminders to get up and move for a minute or two every hour. Be creative, and if possible get your co-workers involved too. Employers should love your initiative to develop a healthier, more productive workplace.

So unless your work involves continuous data entry or regular multi-tasking, the standing desk and moving more may be the best thing you ever did for your body and your weight loss.

Want to know how to build your own standing desk? Click here for free details.

Listen to ABC Life Matters – The Perils of Prolonged Sitting