By Dr. Mercola
Are you sitting down? This habit, which the average U.S. adult spends up to 10 hours a day doing, is viewed as a normal, integral part of daily life, especially if you’re a student, work a desk job or commute long hours.
It’s becoming clear, though, that all of this sitting is doing our bodies no favors and, instead, is contributing to rising rates of overweight and obesity, chronic disease and even premature death.
In the video below, Dan Pardi, a researcher with the Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Department at Stanford University and the Departments of Neurology and Endocrinology at Leiden University in the Netherlands, interviewed Kelly and Juliet Starrett.
Kelly has a Ph.D. in physical therapy and is the author of “Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World.” He is one of the leaders in the CrossFit movement and stresses the importance of proper body mechanics, both in and outside the gym.
His first book, “Becoming a Supple Leopard,” addresses biomechanical inadequacies that might increase your risk of injury. Juliet is a former competitive athlete, CrossFit authority and co-founder of the healthy movement website Mobility WOD.
In short, the husband-and-wife team are veritable experts on movement and how it can make or break your health. But their latest venture, StandUpKids.org, is the product of their role as parents, first, and it’s one that may help improve the health of kids across the U.S.
It Started With a Sack Race at Field Day
The sack race is one of the most athletic events at many school field days, requiring kids to step into a burlap sack and jump to the finish line as fast as they can.
When Juliet and Kelly volunteered at their daughters’ school field day running the sack races, they were “really disturbed” to see that the kids were having a hard time with the event. Juliet said:
“The kids were having trouble physically getting into the sack, and then they were horrible at jumping. Basic jumping in a sack, they were falling down, they didn’t have the skills to just be able to jump across a field inside a burlap sack.
I’m certainly not a physical therapist, but even with my untrained eye I was able to see that these kids were super messed up … [O]ur conclusion was that these kids are stuck sitting at 90-degree angles all the time, and they couldn’t move.”
Going more in depth, Kelly explained that about half of children experience a fundamental change in their pattern of running, from forefoot striking to heel striking, about mid-way through 1st grade, a time when the effects of sitting at a desk all day at school may begin to show their mark.
“If you look at young kids, kindergarten, even beginning first grade … they don’t heel strike … Doesn’t matter what’s on their feet, if they’re barefoot, wearing any kind of shoe, they run the same.
Halfway through the first grade, literally you can see the cohort split and half the kids start heel striking … that means that … [y]ou’re fundamentally altering a primary motor pattern.
When we started looking around, we’re like, ‘What could possibly be the underlying cause of this primary change in an essential movement pattern?’
It turns out the only thing that we feel like we can point to is the sitting. At some point there’s a sitting load that kids can no longer buffer, and so their tissues begin to adapt, and because they spend … time in this anterior, front at the hip, calf-shortened position they have to alter their fundamental running mechanics.”
Too Much Sitting Leads to Decreased Functionality and Affects Cognition
While none of the children were injured, the Starretts observed that they had decreased functionality as a result of spending so much time in a seated, sedentary position. They’re quick to point out that this isn’t so much an issue of sitting versus standing as it is one of moving versus not moving.
Sitting is a sedentary behavior while standing is not. The duo approached the school’s principal and succeeded in introducing standing desks to a classroom of fourth graders.
To date, through the development of their non-profit organization, they’ve given about 35,000 U.S. schoolkids access to standing desks in the classroom.
It’s clear that this change is not only physical in nature, as the ability to move and fidget is linked to better learning in the classroom and improved productivity at work. “[E]veryone studying ADHD forever and ever has always seen a correlation between movement and cognition,” Kelly noted, adding:
“For us to separate out our cognitive, brainy cells from our movement cells really is a type one error, and … all of the metrics that we measure, whether it’s engagement or productivity, test scores, behavior disruption, all of those things are attenuated, or improved … when you have a human being not sit. That sedentary behavior literally starts to throw off light switches and down regulate the function of the human being.”
Pardi also pointed out that muscle activity acts as a stimulus to keep your brain alert. When you sit and stop using your muscles, your brain may follow suit. The Starrettes cited some impressive statistics, such as a $40-million increase in sales over a six-month period at a call center after employees switched to standing workstations (and this was with standing for only an extra 1.5 hours a day).
A study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport also revealed that in first grade boys, lower levels of physical activity and higher levels of sitting time were linked to poorer reading skills.
It’s About Moving More and Listening to Your Body
It can feel overwhelming to think about giving up your chair, but it’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. Rather than focusing on not sitting, think about ways to move more. In the classroom, for instance, a student using a standing desk is free to sit on the floor if he is tired.
Even sitting on the floor can be advantageous over chair sitting, as the former frees you to move in a variety of positions, such as sitting cross legged, which helps increase flexibility and range of motion. Further, just having that option, to stand if you feel like standing and sit if you feel like sitting, is important in itself, because it teaches kids (and re-teaches adults) to pay attention to how their bodies are feeling and respond accordingly. Kelly told Pardi:
“What we’re trying to do is bring consciousness and awareness, that if kids are tired they sit. There’s even a stool in the classroom and if kids are sick or injured they just lean. What we’ve done is given them the option and given the permission to listen to what’s going on in their bodies, which is a part of this physical education.
… What we want people to do is recognize that when you’re in a moving environment then you have movement options, and you have more movement options than you do when you collapse.”
Remember that just the act of standing up takes you out of sedentary mode. And when you’re standing, you’re unlikely to stand completely still, at least not for long. You’ll likely stretch, lean, bend and pace. You may take your foot on and off a footstool or fidget.
This is all movement that counts toward your daily activity, activity that is lacking in so many Americans’ lives. Just by ditching your seat in favor of standing, you propel yourself into near-constant motion.
Take It Slow
If you’re used to sitting for six, eight or 10 hours a day, you shouldn’t expect to switch entirely to a standing desk overnight. According to Juliet:
“Somehow everyone thinks that if they’ve been sitting for 20 [00:32:30] years they can just pop up to a standing desk and go from sitting for 12 hours a day to standing for nine hours when they’re at their office and it’s going to be no big deal. What we tell people is just to take little baby steps.”
They recommend first transitioning to a standing desk with a perching stool and sitting on that for 20 or 30 minutes, then gradually increasing your time. In addition, be sure your desk is adjusted to the proper height, and many people feel more comfortable having somewhere to put a foot on and off, such as a stepstool.
If you don’t have a standing desk, it’s possible to fashion one out of a regular desk by propping up your computer on a box or an overturned wastebasket. If standing isn’t an option, you can reap many similar benefits by getting up from your chair every 20 minutes and taking a two-minute walk.
For times when you do sit, “sit with skill,” the Starretts said. They advise sitting on your sit bones, engaging your legs and trying to look over the chair. When you’re first starting out, divide your day into optional sitting and non-optional sitting. Don’t worry about the times when you have to sit, but take stock of what they call “junk sitting” and try to whittle that down.
Join the Standup Kids Movement
Currently, the average U.S. student spends 4.5 hours a day sitting at school and an additional seven hours a day sitting in front of a screen. When combined with time spent sitting while driving to school, doing homework and eating, kids are spending 85 percent of their waking hours sitting.
Kelly’s initiative, called Standup Kids, has partnered with a number of corporations, giving about 35,000 children the much-needed opportunity to move more in school by installing standing desks, complete with fidget bars. They’ve also partnered with University of California Berkeley and the local county public health department to try to get more research done.
This is really something that needs to spread like wildfire across the nation, if we want to have any hope of rescuing our children from chronic dysfunction.
Some people have expressed concerns over “forcing” kids to stand all day, but remember this isn’t about standing still for long hours, which can cause its own set of problems — it’s about creating a movement-rich environment with lots of different options for healthy movement. The children have access to stools, should they choose to use them, but teachers say they rarely do.
Their mission is to put standing desks in every public school in the U.S., and they’ve already succeeded in establishing the first entirely standing school in the world, which is Vallecito Elementary School in Northern California.
Save Yourself From Near-Certain Dysfunction
In 2016, I interviewed Kelly about his book, “Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World,” and I believe most people can benefit from it. Personally, it’s been a real eye-opener for me and has helped me address some of my own movement challenges.
This is a simple way to radically improve your health. If you’re not convinced, Kelly mentioned a study that found office workers who smoked to be healthier than non-smokers simply because they got up every 30 minutes or so and walked outside to have a cigarette.
“That activity was enough to be a considerable change in the function and health of the human being,” he said. Kelly also has a YouTube channel called MobilityWOD, which stands for Workout of the Day. The interventions he suggests are not only powerful, they’re also inexpensive — in most cases free. They can help you avoid any chronic diseases and orthopedic problems linked to prolonged sitting. The latter include:
|Neck problems||Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJD)||Carpal tunnel syndrome|
|Knee problems||Lower extremity problems||Shoulder dysfunction|
|Poor diaphragm function||Low back pain||Hernias|
|Pelvic floor dysfunction||Hip dysfunction|
It’s also interesting to note that these problems occur not only in adults but also in children. Many U.S. kids suffer from sitting-induced range-of-motion problems, which, if not addressed, may increase their risk of injury and compromise their long-term athletic and movement abilities. This can be fixed, in part, by increasing opportunities for movement, but the first step is recognizing whether there’s a problem.
The video below, from StandUp Kids, shows how you can test your child’s range of motion using positions that are most easily compromised by sedentary behaviors like too much sitting.