Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Stand Up

There have been a few interesting articles recently about weight loss and standing vs. sitting. The articles claim that you will burn up to 60 calories more per hour if you stand rather than sit and that it is desk work and computers that are making us overweight rather than what we eat.

Frankly, though I'd like to be encouraged by this, I'm skeptical and believe this is another in a long line of studies advocating that we wouldn't be fat with small changes in our lifestyle. The main reason I'm doubtful is that there are a lot of waitresses and nurses who are overweight, and they are in jobs where they do nothing but stand most of the day.

On a personal level, I also doubt this because I am not a "sitter". I have a lot of problems sitting for long periods of time and often get up and walk around to do things while working. I rarely sit for a long time in front of the computer screen or television. Certainly I don't sit for more than 40 minutes at a time without getting up and doing something else. Yet, I still manage to be pretty damn fat.

I think part of the issue which is not being thoroughly explained or discussed in recent studies is the fact that people rarely just stand. It is likely that those who burn 60 calories more per hour are moving around as well. I'll grant that standing almost certainly burns more calories that sitting (because holding yourself upright requires more muscle control), but I think there is more to this than the current studies claim. Chances are this is yet another example of oversimplification of the test parameters in order to make the variables measurable and have scientific validity, while having little in the way of real life applicability.

The bottom line though is that I don't think that the main issue that we should be dealing with is how to not sit all day because I see that as unavoidable in the modern world, but rather at what level we need to eat and exercise to compensate for the fact that our lives are so much more sedentary now. I think if employers are to play a role in making America healthier, we also have to consider the fact that they often want office workers essentially chained to the desk as much as possible and even count things like trips to the bathroom when the better thing to do would be to give people little exercise breaks every few hours so that they could walk around or stretch.

Of course, people are always looking for simple solutions, and I'm guessing this one might spawn a bunch of offices without chairs and with standing desks. I've noticed that most data is used to make workers more uncomfortable rather than to employ a more complex, but possibly successful solution (like company-sponsored gyms or movement breaks during the day).