Pony Express: Standing room only to live longer

The studies about the effects of sitting all day are gloomy. Very simply, standing burns 40 percent more calories than sitting. Beyond that, our body processes fats more effectively when we're standing, and standing is better for the spine. As a ...

The studies about the effects of sitting all day are gloomy. Very simply, standing burns 40 percent more calories than sitting. Beyond that, our body processes fats more effectively when we’re standing, and standing is better for the spine. As a result, those who sit all day have greater risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and a variety of cancers. Statistically, 54 percent of those who sit all day are more likely to die of heart attacks than those who stand for a good part of the day. This, from a study of 17,000 men and women in a report found in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

In a 2010 study by the American Cancer Society, women who sit more than six hours a day are 37 percent more likely to die prematurely than women who sit for less than three hours. But men, for some reason, are only 18 percent more likely to die early. Even worse, in a study of 222,497 Australians by the Sax Institute, people who sit for more than 11 hours a day have a 40 percent higher risk of dying within the next three years than people who sit less than four hours daily.

Wow. Those are numbers that ought to get us off our butts. I wrote the first two paragraphs of this article while sitting, but now I’m standing.

What are the solutions? First of all, it should be understood that the enemy isn’t sitting - it’s sitting all day. One very recent development has been the increased use of “stand-up” desks for those who have eight-hour-a-day desk jobs. It’s simple, the desks are just higher than the standard sit-down desks. Some have devised small lecterns to plunk on top of standard desks to get the same benefit. The workers do their work standing rather than sitting.

That may require more attention to rubber pads on the floor and supportive shoes, but that’s no big deal. Machinists, mechanics, carpenters and countless others work on their feet almost all day long. The people with stand-up desks report that standing keeps them more attentive, focused on their work and more energetic.


Many of our great writers wrote while standing up: Ernest Hemmingway; Vladimir Nabokov; Philip Roth, still living and writing at 78, who claims that practice has him walking a half mile for every page he writes; Lewis Carol, who stood to write despite a knee injury, migraines and epilepsy; a very tall Thomas Wolfe, who used the top of his refrigerator for a work surface; and Pat Conroy, who stands to write because of a back problem.

Back to solutions. We could do more. There are probably only three chairs that are absolutely necessary: high chairs for kiddies not old enough to stand, wheelchairs for those forced to sit because of handicaps, and toilets for obvious reasons. Add to that the fact that electric chairs are unnecessary for moral and philosophical reasons.

What we really need is a national campaign to drastically reduce the number of chairs, not by law, but by practice. It would start in the home, where most good things start. If we took two-thirds of the chairs out of every home we could eat standing up, reduce spillage and aid digestion.

Eating tables would adjust in parts - adult height, junior height and primary height, all good for the furniture industry to reduce the losses due to fewer chairs. We would watch TV standing up, to reduce tube time by over half and eliminate couch potatoes entirely while creating stronger, healthier families and promoting sensible shoes.

Schools could eliminate desks and chairs gradually, beginning in kindergarten and working one year at a time for 13 years, when they’d all be gone. Teachers could sit only as required by health and fatigue factors. Classrooms wouldn’t need to be as large as now, and we could get more classrooms in the same amount of space as before to reduce the cost of educating our kids. Besides, the kids would be more alert and responsive.

Church services would be conducted while standing, resulting in more attentive worship - and shorter services, you can be sure.

Congress could conduct their business standing up. You could expect they’d get something done once they’d gotten off their - chairs. Nothing could make our congress less productive than it is now, and standing committees actually working and conducting their business while on their feet would shorten speeches and promote production.

How could stand-up politicians be anything but an improvement? This approach would eliminate the confusing labels of “chairman,” “chairlady,” and “chairperson” by calling all the top officers “leader.”


For safety reasons, we would still sit in cars, buses and trains. In addition to safety in planes, the airline industry would never allow passengers to stand. They can pack many more patrons into planes with narrow seats and three inches of knee space. As in the past, all healthy habits would have to be practiced on the ground outside of airplanes.

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