“Sitting is the new smoking” might be the most tired health cliché of the decade. Yeah, we get it. Spending the whole day in a chair isn’t healthy. Thing is: it’s not wrong. Sitting at work contributes to such diseases as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, even cancer. And even after-work exercise might not be able to compensate for the ill effects.
Back pain we get, but how does just sitting cause cancer? For one thing, when you spend a lot of time seated, cells in your muscles can become resistant to insulin, the agent that drives sugar from your bloodstream into your cells to be used, says James Levine, a doctor of endocrinology and a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic. That causes a huge spike in blood sugar and triglycerides, the fat cells in your blood, right after you eat. If you continue sitting after eating, your blood sugar levels can remain high for two or three hours. Meanwhile, your body will continue producing extra insulin to try to push the sugar levels down.
Diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer are all associated with high blood sugar and high insulin. But if you take a walk after you eat, even for just 15 minutes, your triglycerides, cholesterol and blood sugar will be halved. Here’s where the standing desk comes in: Even without thinking about it, on average, people with standing desks end up walking an extra 1 to 2 hours per day, making them more physically active and reducing insulin resistance, which can improve health in innumerable ways.
In short, standing itself isn’t going to solve your health problems, but it will position you, literally, to do more walking, which could prolong your life.