Research shows that sitting down is slowly killing you. Dr. Kelly Starrett’s Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World is the antidote we all need.
By John Wolcott
In Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World, Kelly Starrett (@mobilitywod) wastes no time urging readers to get out of their seats. He pulls from research to illustrate one sobering reality: sitting down is slowly killing us.
Despite the research, we spend most of our lives in a sedentary position. We sit down to commute, we sit down at work, we sit down when we’re home, when we eat, and any other time the opportunity presents itself.
Try it yourself: Download this PDF worksheet and keep track of how long you sit for each activity in your day.
Opening the book with sobering stats works. After the first few pages I was inspired to build a standing desk for myself. When I reached the middle of the book I was standing most of the day. And by the time I finished the book, I was practicing the maintenance routines that Starrett recommends to offset the years of damage I’ve done to my body from sitting.
But one never really finishes reading Deskbound. It’s a reference manual for why and how to move often, and move well. In a world that has stripped us of our natural tendencies to move, we can all use Starrett’s practical advice.
Statistics aside, there’s another reason to read this book. Anyone who can clearly explain how to move the body with words and minimal photos is a master wordsmith. Whether he’s explaining how to neutralize the spine or rotate the pelvis, Starrett’s language is concise, filled with imagery, and easy to follow even for the layman.
Because of its eye-opening research and practical advice, I’ve added Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World to the list of books that have changed my life.
Here are 10 important takeaways from Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World.
1. Sitting Down Kills You
This book opens up with some sobering statistics: research shows that a sedentary lifestyle is more dangerous than smoking and kills more people than HIV. Sitting too much raises the risk of heart attacks, causes arteries to stiffen, and softens bones. What’s more, sitting for long periods causes the muscles in the lower body to become inactive, causing all sorts of joint, motion, and mobility problems. The worst part, though? Keep reading.
2. Exercise Does Nothing to Negate the Effects of Sitting
That’s right. If you think you can sit all day and then hit the gym for an hour, and think that gym time will negate all the damage done throughout the day, guess again. According to Starrett, exercise by itself does nothing to offset the issues that come from sitting. But if you have to sit down all day, it doesn’t mean there are no solutions. You need a proper maintenance routine in addition to your exercise habits.
3. Move Well, Move Often, and Perform Maintenance
Humans were born to move. But we never really get any training on how to move well. That is, we’re never taught how to be mindful when we use our bodies. Whether for walking, lifting, running, standing, sitting, or stretching, Starrett calls not only for movement, but proper movement and engagement of all your body’s main parts so that they work together as a single unit. And when not moving? Then it’s time for maintenance. At the end of the book there are many maintenance routines that take 20 minutes at most that you can work into your day, especially if your day is spent in a chair.
4. Reset Your Posture Until it’s Second Nature
This book gives some great examples on how to easily reset your posture throughout the day. But the trick is to be mindful of your posture to begin with. It takes some getting used to, but after a while you’ll find yourself becoming more mindful of your body. You’ll find yourself readjusting your posture. And after a few days, the minor aches of holding yourself upright eventually fade and you’ll find yourself standing and sitting with better posture.
5. A Standing Desk is a Must for Anyone Who Can Stand
Starrett recommends everyone who is capable of standing to switch from a seated desk to standing desk, at least for part of the day. But switching to a standing desk isn’t a matter of changing furniture. Certain shoes are recommended. The proper measurements from body to computer are important. And movement, plenty of constant movement, is mandatory. Here is a little guide I found online for your typical standing and sitting desk measurements.
6. Even Children Are Prone to the Ill Effects of Sitting
Starrett makes a strong case that this generation of children might be the first generation of children who grow up less healthy and who will have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. This is because children, in general, spend about 7.5 hours sitting in front of screens. They spend almost 8 hours a day sitting in school. The effects are detrimental. Children’s natural running abilities deteriorate after one year of sitting in school. Their cognitive functions weaken. The good news? When children stand as opposed to sitting, children maintain natural running technique and executive functions and working memory increases.
7. You Burn More NEAT Calories While Standing
I have to admit, before I read this book I had no idea what NEAT calories were. Apparently, NEAT calories, or Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis, are the calories you burn when you’re going about your daily routine. According to research in the book, if you sit down for 8 hours a day you’re only burning 300 NEAT calories. But if you stand for those 8 hours you burn 1,300 NEAT calories. That’s a massive difference. From all the the shifting, the fidgeting, and the stretching that comes with standing, you burn more calories.
8. Sitting Down Slows Your Brain
Your brain craves movement just as much as your body does. Research in the book states that physical activity is mandatory for creative thinking, increased smarts, and higher states of focus. Physical activity is also responsible for creating neurogenesis, which helps brain growth throughout childhood and slows the natural aging process as we move into the later years of our lives.
9. The Body is Meant to Withstand Abuse, in a Not-So-Good Way
Our bodies are designed to withstand the pressures of an everyday active lifestyle. But the human body is also designed to withstand or mask injury by shifting its focus to another area. For example, if you have sciatica or a herniated disk and you throw your back out, your body shifts to one side to compensate for the injury. This adaptation is okay while you heal, but long term adaptation can cause major problems down the road. The solution? Maintain proper posture and avoid injury. You want your body healthy enough to withstand the good abuse (exercise), not the bad abuse (injury).
10. Breath Into Your Stomach
Right now I bet you’re taking shallow breaths. It’s okay. I noticed I’m doing the same thing as I write this. I wasn’t mindful of it until I wrote those words actually. Most of us don’t know how to breath properly. Starrett reminds us that breathing diaphragmatically allows us to tap into our parasympathetic nervous system. This nervous system is basically the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system, which causes us to either fight or run like hell when we’re confronted with danger. So how do you breathe diagphramatically to help you relax? Simply take a deep breath and fill your core, like you’re trying to pack your stomach with as much air as possible.
Are you standing up yet? If not, do yourself a favor and pick up Deskbound. Oh, and don’t read it sitting down.
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