HERE’S THE THING: I sit a lot. As someone who works from home, I can get away with sitting cross-legged, reclined, sidesaddle like a Victorian lady on a horse and sometimes in less graceful positions on the carpet. I’ve always known that sitting is bad for me, but I had no idea just how bad until I came across a book with the provocative and somewhat dramatic title Get Up!: Why Your Chair Is Killing You And What You Can Do About It, penned in 2014 by esteemed Mayo Clinic professor James A. Levine, an ardent hater of chairs.
“The sitting disease is about sentencing the modern soul to sedentariness,” Levine writes in Get Up!. “Together we are all dying a slow death—body, mind and soul—glued to our chairs.” His slow-death-by-chair theory is surely depressing, but that’s not to say he doesn’t have a point.
A vast majority of Americans, including yours truly, spend their working hours glued to their seats. It’s easy to see why: Emails need to be sent; meetings need to be had; social-media statuses about what we need to be doing but aren’t doing need to be written. Unfortunately for me, it doesn’t get any better when I get off work—which is really just a simple migration from my “office area” to the couch. It’s peak TV season, and Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are doling out hard-to-turn-down shows, and the pressure of catching up sometimes feels like work, too. I can see how I might be an easy target for murderous, villainous chairs and couches. You might be, too.
That might seem extreme, but here’s the deal: The consequences of a sedentary lifestyle are serious. Read them out loud, and you’ll sound like the narrator in one of those prescription-drug advertisements, hurriedly listing the terrifying side effects as beautiful people romp through the wilderness in slow motion. In other words, the cons are scary, but we tend to gloss over them. According to Levine, sitting hunched over a keyboard for prolonged periods of time—a position that slows down metabolic reactions, ramps up cholesterol and blood sugar, and builds up toxins—can be linked to 34 chronic diseases, including cancer, depression and obesity. He even goes so far as to say that squeezing in an hour-long gym sesh a couple of times a week does little to offset the harm from all the sitting we do for close to 15 hours a day, seven days a week.
Within the past decade—as more and more studies have looked at death rates of active-versus-sedentary men and women, and folks like Levine have pushed to get people off their chairs—there has been a movement toward, well, movement in the workplace. I remember when the treadmill desk first became a thing among health nuts. Treadmill desks, however, come with a hefty price tag—not to mention that all that thump, thump, thump-ing is a surefire way to annoy your co-workers. But even standing desks, which sell for a much humbler price, get the job done. And if that’s even out of the question, you can simply elevate your computer with a cheap and portable monitor riser, or even boxes. For me, the solution was much simpler than that. It involved moving a perky poinsettia from my kitchen breakfast bar to another well-lit surface. Boom. Hello, new working space.
A few days into it, the only downside I’m noticing is that my dog, who takes her 18-hour shut-eye time very seriously, is constantly on edge, since she assumes I’m on the verge of leaving any minute (my breakfast bar is right by the front door). The upside? Significantly less tension in my shoulders and neck, a surge in energy and, hopefully, a longer life, though I won’t be able to confirm that part for a while. There are other things so subtle I hardly even notice them. Like the fact that the electrical activity in my muscles and my body’s calorie-burning rate don’t drop to dangerous levels, as they would if I were sitting. I’ve learned that my hour-long boxing class, though very invigorating, doesn’t make up for the absurd amount of time I used to spend sitting.
All of which is to say, there’s a lot that can be done to conquer the sitting disease. And as Levine puts it, it starts by getting up.