July 22, 2010
Get Out Of Your Seat Or Die

We did not evolve to sit. Just like there's a Paleo Diet to bring us back to the diet evolved to eat we need Paleo Furniture for our workplaces. Office chairs should be relabeled death chairs.

To explore the association between sitting time and mortality, researchers led by Alpa Patel, Ph.D. analyzed survey responses from 123,216 individuals (53,440 men and 69,776 women) who had no history of cancer, heart attack, stroke, or emphysema/other lung disease enrolled in the American Cancer Society's Cancer Prevention II study in 1992. They examined the amount of time spent sitting and physical activity in relation to mortality between 1993 and 2006. They found that more leisure time spent sitting was associated with higher risk of mortality, particularly in women. Women who reported more than six hours per day of sitting were 37 percent more likely to die during the time period studied than those who sat fewer than 3 hours a day. Men who sat more than 6 hours a day were 18 percent more likely to die than those who sat fewer than 3 hours per day. The association remained virtually unchanged after adjusting for physical activity level. Associations were stronger for cardiovascular disease mortality than for cancer mortality.

Think you can safely sit for many hours if you just get yourself a Hermann Miller Aeron chair then you are all set to sit for long hours? Nope, not that easy. Sitting is the problem. Worse yet, the classic 90 degree sitting angle is bad. Yup, all that advice about sitting up straight and rectangular was wrong. Those ram-rod straight sitters were all damaging their metabolism. Anyone know, does the Herman Miller Embody chair allow you to tilt back to 120 or 135 degrees? It appears to support more tilting back than the Aeron. But I can't tell how much from pictures.

Sitting combined with not exercising is an even speedier way to meet the Grim Reaper.

When combined with a lack of physical activity, the association was even stronger. Women and men who both sat more and were less physically were 94% and 48% more likely, respectively, to die compared with those who reported sitting the least and being most active.

"Several factors could explain the positive association between time spent sitting and higher all-cause death rates," said Dr. Patel. "Prolonged time spent sitting, independent of physical activity, has been shown to have important metabolic consequences, and may influence things like triglycerides, high density lipoprotein, cholesterol, fasting plasma glucose, resting blood pressure, and leptin, which are biomarkers of obesity and cardiovascular and other chronic diseases."

Is all that sitting killing us? Some researchers think so. The idea is that Exercise doesn't cancel out the changes in muscles that come from extended lack of use.

Hamilton, like many sitting researchers, doesn't own an office chair. "If you're standing around and puttering, you recruit specialized muscles designed for postural support that never tire," he says. "They're unique in that the nervous system recruits them for low-intensity activity and they're very rich in enzymes." One enzyme, lipoprotein lipase, grabs fat and cholesterol from the blood, burning the fat into energy while shifting the cholesterol from LDL (the bad kind) to HDL (the healthy kind). When you sit, the muscles are relaxed, and enzyme activity drops by 90% to 95%, leaving fat to camp out in the bloodstream. Within a couple hours of sitting, healthy cholesterol plummets by 20%.

I've gotten in the habit of getting up and walking around at least once every 2 hours. I'd really like a more flexible work environment that would make it easier to shift between sitting and standing during the course of the day.

Update: Anyone used the Treadmill TrekDesk? How about the Steelcare Jump chair?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 July 22 09:58 PM  Aging Exercise Studies

Basil Ransom said at July 22, 2010 11:21 PM:

R.P. - Stand up desks. Rumsfeld used one while in the Bush administration.

Parker Bohn said at July 22, 2010 11:51 PM:

No one will question the benefits of exercise, but I do have some reservations here.

Why do people who sit less than 3 hours a day have lower mortality?
An unhealthy person (especially an older person) may not be capable of standing or walking for that many hours.
This unhealthy person would therefore be excluded from the target sample.

So this study seems to be selecting healthier people, then telling us that they live longer.

PacRim Jim said at July 23, 2010 8:18 AM:

Get one of the desks with a built-in treadmill. That way you can get in your daily 100,000 steps.

Lono said at July 23, 2010 8:29 AM:

This is probably one of the top health issues in the 1st World right now.

Problem is - Govt's don't have ANY interest in increasing the population - so they see it as a good - no invasive - way to cull the herd.

Martial Arts experts and masters have been sounding the alarm concerning this since the 80's - but no one in charge of the public health has ever listened.

At the very least - the evidence now shows that breaking up your sitting with legitimate walking breaks - at least every 2 hours - helps significantly.

And of course significant exercise at least 4 out of 7 days is just as important as quitting smoking.

If your a sitter - and you smoke or drink commercial soda - then you've already made your decision to trade healthy years of your life for temporary satisfaction - good luck with that!

PacRim Jim said at July 23, 2010 8:56 AM:

BTW, the dichotomy is false: It's not "get out of your seat or die"; it's "get out of your seat or possibly die sooner."

Chris T said at July 23, 2010 9:09 AM:

Be careful with the paleo diet thing; humans have had agriculture for thousands of years and evolution has not stopped during that time. ie - Lactase persistence is a recent phenomenon

Fat Man said at July 23, 2010 9:38 AM:

Want to lose up to 57 lbs in one year? Can't find enough time to get to the gym? Spend lots of time in front of a computer?
If you answered Yes, Yes and Yes, then welcome to the solution...the Treadmill Desk. Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic came up with the idea of a "Treadmill Desk". The idea is to slowly walk on a treadmill while working at a desk built around the treadmill...a Treadmill Desk.


Buy one:




Or build your own:


Sione said at July 23, 2010 1:04 PM:

What about reverse chairs and saddle seats? Are they any better for you?


Sione said at July 23, 2010 1:05 PM:

What about saddle seats and reverse chairs? Are they any better?


philw1776 said at July 23, 2010 1:59 PM:

Admit it, my wife made you post this! Right?

David said at July 23, 2010 3:01 PM:

This totally makes sense, because as we've become more and more sedentary, life expectancy has dramatically dropped.... oh, wait...

Anne Oynmous said at July 23, 2010 3:03 PM:

Another thing Paleolithic man didn't do was fear monger every little thing in life.

Stop reading scandalous headlines or DIE.


Buzzard said at July 23, 2010 3:13 PM:

So sleep 7 hours, awake 17 hours, sit less than 3 hours? What on earth can you possibly do with
the remaining 14 hours that doesn't involve sitting?

J said at July 23, 2010 3:22 PM:

Obviously, we should be lying down more.

WCK said at July 23, 2010 3:33 PM:

I use a TrekDesk - www.trekdesk.com - and love it. I typically do about 3-6 miles per day at 8 degrees of incline (better for my back and hips) at rates from 1.4 mph if I'm on the phone and 2.2 mph if I'm not. I work from home, so wearing shorts and sweat are not an issue, but most people in an office setting can walk at 1 mph and not sweat.

According to this online calculator (http://42.195km.net/e/treadsim/) that's around 1500 ~ 1800 calories burned. You also feel much more alert when walking and working than sitting. And if you walk after eating, you are less likely to have a mid-afternoon crash.

Justin said at July 23, 2010 4:05 PM:

I'm interested as to whether the link between sitting and health problems is due to the position or the relative lack of muscle activity. If I sat on a wobbly object like an exercise ball instead of a regular desk chair, will the same mortality be likely, or does that intervene positively?

Nate Whilk said at July 23, 2010 5:07 PM:

"Office chairs should be relabeled death chairs."

Oh, puh-leeze. Cut the ridiculously hyperbolic language.

Big D said at July 23, 2010 5:11 PM:

What about a zero-G chair? Are those considered more or less healthy than the fancier task chairs?

George said at July 23, 2010 5:27 PM:

"What on earth can you possibly do with
the remaining 14 hours that doesn't involve sitting?"

Hunting and gathering. Manual labor--muck some stalls, tote some bales, harvest grain with a scythe. Bricklaying, ditch digging with a shovel. Think 18th century--that's our future.

Nick Reynolds said at July 23, 2010 6:59 PM:

I think George is on to something. With the way the economy's looking maybe I should go into blacksmithing.

Randall Parker said at July 23, 2010 8:31 PM:

Basil Ransom,

If you click thru on the NY Times link in my post you'll see a picture of Rumsfeld at his stand-up desk during his time as Secretary of Defense.

Chris T,

Paleo Diet: I also used to be skeptical because of the amount of time northern Europeans have been eating grains and drinking milk. I figured I ought to be well adapted. Sure, lactase spread very rapidly. But the evidence for the benefits of the paleo diet seems pretty strong. Look at the societies that had no heart disease until industrialized refined, higher carb food became cheap and plentiful.

I suspect it has been a case where the advantages of milk-based civilization (lots more calories per acre) outweighed the health costs later in life. In a world of the Malthusian Trap the short term boost in calorie supply outweighed the eventual harm later in life.


So do you use the TrekDesk all day long? Do you type much while at the desk? Or more phone calls?


Click thru and read some of my links. Short answer: The biggest problem is lack of muscle activity. The muscles shift state. But angle of sitting also matters. Some office chairs like this Steelcase Jump allow for a more reclined angle. See this short video on the Leap.

I do not let myself sit for more than 2 hours at work.

Kevin said at July 23, 2010 9:35 PM:

Agree with a couple of the other commenters re the stand up desk. I saw it in Japan a couple years ago and immediately converted, and haven't looked back. Most of my staff has also converted by now as well. I'm far more productive - it's hard to daydream while standing up as you just fall over! Here's some info on my stand up desk setup:

Brett Bellmore said at July 24, 2010 9:18 AM:

I used to be the typical marginal Asperger's syndrome engineer; Sit at my desk, get to work, look up and it's time to go home. Prostate surgery sure solved THAT problem. ;) Now I go for a walk around the plant every time my bladder drives me from my desk, I'm doing 12-13,000 steps a day, according to the pedometer. So maybe I'm covered already.

The treadmill desk looks good, but they just remodeled my office, and there's no room in it for that thing, with the modular desks taking up the entire wall area. So that's out. Could you achieve the same result with something like an under the desk pedal exerciser? Seems a lot more affordable, and my corner desk has plenty of room under it for something like that.

Javert said at July 24, 2010 10:31 AM:

I go out and grab a smoke every hour. Riles up the blood a little.

Sione said at July 24, 2010 11:42 PM:


I've found that shot of bourbon with coffee in the morning really works well. It's probably better than having a smoke. Makes driving to the office more pleasant as well.

BTW does anyone know whether saddle seats and reverse chairs are better for you than the conventional type?


Russ said at July 25, 2010 1:29 PM:

I notice a distinct difference in my alertness and energy level simply depending on how I sit. With a backless chair/stool forcing me to drop my weight through my sit-bones, I preserve much of the sensation you have when standing up... in a chair with a back, none of that. I wonder if different kinds of sitting are at play in regard to those lower back muscles?

PacRim Jim said at July 25, 2010 2:29 PM:

Paleolithic man only lived about 20 years. Saved by the chair!

WCK said at July 26, 2010 7:21 PM:

Randall Parker,

I typically walk 2-4 hours a day, depending on my appointment schedule. I have no problem typing at 2.2 mph, but my old treadmill makes too much noise at that speed so I drop it down to about 1.3 ~ 1.5 mph for calls. With a better treadmill, you'd probably be fine talking at higher speed.

Brent Bellmore,

I've also used under desk pedals, and while you burn calories, it is harder to really get your heart rate up and it can be irritating long term as the pressure on your lower back gets uncomfortable. For me anyway.

Randall Parker said at July 26, 2010 9:32 PM:


Noisy treadmills are a bigger problem in cubicle land where there aren't high walls and doors that can shield others from the treadmill noises. Plus, cubicles are too small.

WCK said at July 26, 2010 11:29 PM:

Randall Parker,

Agreed - I have a home office as I have my own business. I bought my treadmill as a floor display model at Dick's to see if I liked it. For a $100, you can't beat it, but it has been rode hard and put up wet and makes noise like a busted chainsaw. Most Treadmills are $700+, so I don't think the noise issue will effect everyone.

John Sifferman said at July 27, 2010 1:35 PM:

I think a lot of people miss the overarching message when studies like this come out. The health consequences that come from prolonged sitting are only a symptom of the greater problem: a sedentary lifestyle. A better solution is to address the source of the problem, instead of treating the sites that come secondarily.

Now, I don't know of any research that has tested the health impact that a standing workstation/desk has on the human body over time, but I think we can infer that many of the results would be the same as the study cited above (with the exception of the structural changes which would be slightly different... ie different areas of muscle tension, joint calcification, adhesion's, etc. A standing workstation or office treadmill may be a small step in the right direction, but it ignores the bigger issue that most people are inactive for 23+ hours a day.

We may be able to make marginal improvements to our health factors through various novelty-based intervention, but we can't fool our physiology. Ultimately, our level of health is determined by our priorities.

Joe said at December 20, 2010 5:14 PM:

Just cover your body with Ab Shockers and you should be good.

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