This week, a study went viral with the claim that sitting all day might not be all that bad for you. Moreover, standing desks — tools that literally get you off your seat — aren't doing much good.
Science has bad news if you intend to take that advice literally. Sitting is still terrible for you.
The study, which analyzed sitting behavior and mortality risk, garnered plenty of headlines like "Sitting Is Actually Not More Dangerous Than Standing," "New Study Says Sitting a Lot Won't Kill You After All" and "Sorry Folks, but Standing Desks May Not Make You Any Healthier." Some of these stories make flip comments about how you should sit right back down because standing isn't any better for you than sitting. What a relief, right?
Think again. "It's sexy to make a blanket statement like the one in the study, but it's not that simple," Dr. Ronald Taylor, chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Beaumont Hospital in Michigan, told Mic.
The problem: There's an important point in this study you don't want to skip, and the media is glossing over it more than a gym floor under an overzealous janitor with a brand-new tub of wood lacquer.
"Our study overturns current thinking on the health risks of sitting and indicates that the problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself," said study author Melvyn Hillsdon, of the University of Exeter, in a statement. "Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing."
The study points out that there's no difference between sitting and standing as it relates to your body. It also notes that most of the participants live in a major city (London) and are physically active; many get around by bike or on foot. But people who live in places more reliant on cars than public transportation — like, say, Knoxville, Tennessee, or most of Montana — likely aren't getting that natural exercise. If a study on gym membership statistics is any indication, those people in car-dominated commuter cities probably aren't heading to the gym after work to make up for it either.
"You have to break down who's sedentary outside of work," Taylor told Mic. "That's a much bigger predictor of if they're going to have heart trouble or other issues."
The study calls for people to get out of their seats. That's what a standing desk does — it forces you to move all the time. No one can stand completely still when they're working. You shift feet, transferring weight from side to side. You bounce along to music. Even snacking probably takes a more active form because your entire body is doing things. Sitting doesn't do that.
"It's sexy to make a blanket statement like the one in the study, but it's not that simple," Dr. Ronald Taylor told Mic.
Standing keeps your body engaged, so you're constantly moving. When you add it to the little spurts of movement health experts have advocated for years, you counteract a lot of the problems experienced by a seated, fully relaxed, inactive body.
Are you sitting right now? If you are, note the position of your back and your abdomen. Never mind how your chair folds your stomach over your belt buckle until it looks like a Shar Pei puppy's face. While sitting, our muscles aren't being activated; their body-supporting duties are being filled by the chair.
So before you settle in for work, note the key messages of this study: Bodies at rest should not stay at rest. No matter what you do at work, find a reason to stand up and move around. Office chairs make our brain, muscles and organs weaker, and before long, all of that will come back to bite us in our (seated) butts.