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Take these steps to increase your health & mental clarity
4 minute read.
Sitting longer than 30-60 minutes at a time increases your risk of back pain, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. It also decreases your learning ability and mental alertness.
You can take steps every 30 minutes to increase your physical health and mental clarity; literally, take steps every 30 minutes, at a minimum. For some reason, people aren’t doing this, despite extensive scientific evidence of the risks of sitting and the benefits of moderate motion throughout the day.
This is similar to smoking; for years, people ignored the scientific evidence that proved smoking’s hazards because it was socially acceptable. To help others, we could make sitting all day less socially acceptable, both in the workplace but especially in school classrooms where kids are forming habits that will impact them the rest of their lives.
This article summarizes the science behind getting off your behind, then gives steps anyone could take to improve their health can mental clarity and create a healthier culture for workplaces and classrooms.
The following statements summarize 18 research studies that, combined, followed 800,000 people for up to 30 years.
People who sit most of the day:
Twice as likely to develop diabetesTwice as likely to have a heart attack2.5 times more cardiovascular diseaseMore back pain
People who alternate sitting and standing:
More energyFewer headaches
Students allowed to move instead of sitting:
Less attention deficit More long-term learning and memory
Exercising once a day does not change the negative effects of sitting all day. Benefit comes from alternating sitting and standing throughout the day, with no more than 20 to 60 consecutive minutes of sitting.
Our bodies and minds are more efficient when in motion because of blood flow, spine biomechanics, and blood sugar levels.
Sitting puts pressure on our thighs and restricts blood flow, decreasing energy and accumulating toxic wastes. Leg muscles pump blood while walking and, to a lesser extent, while standing. Stand using proper posture, ensuring your knees aren’t locked.
Image from Stepit
Sitting weakens back-muscles and changes orientation of spinal discs. When discs change orientation, nutrients are pumped out, disc height decreases, and pressure on bones increases. Together, this leads to degenerated discs and back pain. Similarly, poor posture leads to abnormal forces in the cervical spine (neck), causing headaches.
The effects of spine degeneration can take years to be felt, and are permanent. When you sit, which should not be for longer than 30 minutes, use the best posture for working on a computer.
Image from The Wave Seat
Sitting after eating increases blood glucose levels, which can cause diabetes. To reduce your chances of diabetes, eat moderate portions, avoid sugars, and walk after eating.
Our brains need blood flow and oxygen to be efficient, and throughout history, people have realized that mental clarity comes from standing while working.
Winston Churchill advocated using a stand-up desk.
Earnest Hemingway used a stand-up desk, later in life.
In the 1800’s, inventors and designers recognized the need for stand-up desks.
In the 1700’s, Thomas Jefferson designed his own standing desk.
2,600 years ago, The Buddha described the posture of a person wanting to increase mental clarity, saying [he] “sits down cross legged, holding his back erect…”
Sitting cross legged, with your back erect, negates many harmful effects of sitting. The Buddha also advocated eating moderate amounts and following the middle-way between extremes. The middle-way between sitting all day and standing all day, which is also harmful, is a sit-stand desk.
Sit-stand desks include additions to your existing desk, desks designed to alternate between sitting and standing, and desks with treadmills or other forms of exercise. Examples include:
You can experiment with a standing desk by stacking boxes under your computer.
This improvised standing desk is from a Time magazine article, “How a DIY Standing Desk Changed My Life”
The risk of sitting all day has been emphasized by almost every major newspaper, scientific journal, and government agency.
Annals of Internal Medicine: Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis
National Institute of Health& Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews : Too Much Sitting: The Population-Health Science of Sedentary Behavior
Mayo Clinic, What are the risks of sitting too much?
Victoria, Australia, The dangers of sitting: why sitting is the new smoking
National Health Services, U.K. Why we should sit less
The Economist: Standing Orders
The Guardian (U.K): New study finds sitting down too much costs the world $67.5bn
Fortune: Please stand up while you read this
The Telegraph (U.K.): Sitting down for hours a day speeds up ageing – new research
The Washington Post: The health hazards of sitting
National Education Association: “Kids Who Can’t Sit Still“
Take these steps
Never sit for more than 30 minutes without moving.Eat moderately, avoid sugar, and walk after eating.
Investin a sit-stand option for your desk
Practice being mindful of your breathing and mental clarity each day
Arrange your workplace, classroom, or meeting room to allow both sitting and standing.
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