Don't Take A Seat

Learn how standing more could be your best bet for a long and healthy life.
Published March 14, 2016

Kim Wells goes to the gym regularly and uses a Fitbit to track her activity level. But when she heard that “sitting was the new smoking,” she knew she was in trouble. As an international trade specialist, she was logging about nine hours a day on her butt. “The only time I stood up was when I had to go somewhere else to sit,” she says. “Prolonged sitting is associated with 34 chronic diseases and conditions, including obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, back pain and depression,” explains James A. Levine, MD, PhD, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic. "Our bodies aren't meant to sit as much as most of us do nowadays. As humans have evolved from being agriculturists to being office-based; we’ve lost 10 hours of walking a day,” says Levine. All that sitting clearly adds up.

After just a few hours in your chair, changes occur in your cells, slowing your metabolism, stiffening arteries and increasing insulin resistance. What's more, people who sat 10 hours or more a day were 31 percent more likely to die during a five-year period compared with their peers who sat less than 6 hours a day, according to a study of more than 71,000 men and women in Denmark. Even if you exercise 30 to 60 minutes a day, you’re not in the clear. “Doing something good for one hour a day isn’t enough to negate the bad things you do the rest of the day,” says Levine.

Too much sitting acts almost like a sleeping pill on your body, but without the restorative effects of slumber.

But the news isn’t all bad. Within 90 seconds of standing, you experience positive changes, from a mood boost to better blood sugar control. Since getting a standing desk at work a year ago, Wells is happier, and her energy has skyrocketed. “I used to sit in my car stuck in traffic and then plop down at my desk,” she says. Now she's walking to colleagues’ offices instead of calling or e-mailing them, "I’m more active and engaging with my co-workers. I feel more productive, and I have more energy all day.” Wells’ new vertical lifestyle may even be making her body younger. As you age, your telomeres (part of your chromosomes) usually shorten. But when Swedish researchers encouraged groups of seniors to be more active, they found that telomeres actually grew longer in those who cut back their sitting time by around two hours a day during a small six-month study. If you’re ready to stand up for yourself— and a longer, healthier life—we can help. Your first step is to work on cutting your daily sitting time by two hours, slowly working up to four hours a day. We’ve rounded up 15 ways to help you win top honours—every day.

Let’s not tiptoe around it.
What do you learn when you make a living standing up? “You need to take care of your feet,” says Valerie Valente, who runs a bed-and breakfast, where she spends up to 14 hours a day on the go. Some ideas: Get pedicures, put your feet up and walk around barefoot at night. Here are more inside tips from the people who stand and deliver:

  • Drink lots of water. 
    Muscle fatigue may lead to cramping. Wendy Yoder, a hair stylist who’s upright 8 to 14 hours daily, prevents nighttime leg cramps by drinking eight 10-ounce glasses of water throughout the day
  • Roll your feet over a tennis ball. 
    This form of self-massage helped Maria Ebert, a teacher who spends 6 to 9 hours on her feet every day, when she was feeling a sensation of pins and needles on the bottoms of her feet.
  • Take a stroll. 
    Ebert swears by a lunchtime jaunt around the block to get her blood flowing: “That little walk invigorates me for the afternoon stint.”
  • Stand on a mat. 
    Graphic designer and educator Gayle Hendricks logs up to seven hours a day at a standing desk, and her must-have item is an anti-fatigue mat. “My feet used to feel really tired by the end of the day, like I had just walked a half marathon,” she said. Mats such as Imprint CumulusPro and WellnessMats cost $50 to $120.
  • Stash a stool. 
    If you’re standing still, place one foot on a low stool, suggests Deb Baer, a massage therapist who stands 7 or more hours a day. She finds this strategy takes pressure off her lower back.