#23 – Is sitting bad for you?

Is sitting as bad for you as everyone says? Should you burn your seat and stand for everything that you do?

Hey, everybody! It’s Matt Hsu from Upright Health and welcome to the very, very, very, very delayed Episode 23 of the Upright Health podcast. The last time I did a podcast was at the end of July in 2015 and now, it’s the end of January of 2016. A lot of things happened in the interim. We are very, very settled in our new home here in Redwood City. And “we” is now three: it’s me, it’s Josh and it’s Kristen. And in that transition, a lot of things had to happen. A lot of things had to change. And I’m happy to say that all the changes were positive and things are humming along now in ways that are so good, I actually couldn’t have anticipated them being so good.

So in any case, I’m back here. Hopefully, I will be joined by Kristen and Josh in the future podcast episodes. But today, we’re going to be talking about sitting. And more specifically, is sitting bad for you? This topic actually came up because of an email conversation with a client that Kristen was training here. He is a tech guy (we are in Silicon Valley after all) and he works for a company whose name rhymes with smalphabet and the division of this company that he is in rhymes with “snoogle.” So he asked this question about running. And actually, let me back up a bit. He actually saw one of my talks at “snoogle” and in that talk, I was basically talking about how there are some ill effects to sitting and how there are just things about sitting that are just bad for you. And he himself is a runner and he wanted to know why I had also said that there are some bad effects for running and why I’ve suggested that you need to you undo the ill effects running if running is a very natural thing that we’re supposed to be able to do well naturally. There was that book Born to Run, that he actually referenced and said “Well, if we’re born to run, how could running be bad for us?” And so in this conversation, he’s asking really good questions that I thought should really be addressed and that I should share with you guys as well.

So the whole trend these days is to say that sitting is really bad for you. That it’s basically poisonous, that there’s really nothing good about sitting. Nobody should be sitting, we should all be standing or walking on at a treadmill desk or doing squats all day. I don’t know what people expect human beings to do all day. But I think it’s getting to the point where it’s actually a little bit too far in the extreme. In my opinion, there is nothing that is one hundred percent bad for you. It’s usually a question of dosage. It’s a question of how that activity affects you as an individual and how that fits into the greater context of your normal habits.

So when we think about sitting, right now, it’s the sort of demonized activity like, “just don’t do it at all.” And I think in modern life, it makes how we’ve come up with that. In modern life, we’re sitting 19 hours a day, 20 hours a day. In Silicon Valley everyone’s working so hard and nobody is sleeping; they’re just sitting at their screens, sitting in their cars, commuting in insane amounts of traffic. And people’s bodies are paying for it. You know, backs are hurting, their hips are hurting, knees are hurting, feet are hurting, hands are hurting — all kinds of things start hurting. And it seems to be pretty clearly related to how much people are sitting. So, yeah the sitting seems to be a bit of a villain.

But I think we need to zoom out a little bit and look at another analogy because sitting can be very comfortable. Sitting can be nice after you’ve finished playing tennis for four hours. It’s really nice to sit down. It would be pretty torturous to have to keep walking right after you run a marathon, right? Right after you’ve run a hundred miles, after you’ve just finished playing a hockey game. You know, there is a time and a place where sitting is really good for you and you just need to rest and just relax. Sitting is a great, great activity. So there’s an analogy that I think we can make between this whole sitting thing and a whole other part of our lives.

To kind of illustrate the importance of dosage, it’s good and natural to drink water. We all need to drink water. We probably all drink water in some form or another every single day. Maybe you’re drinking it as soda, maybe you’re drinking it as coffee, maybe you’re drinking it as tea – whatever it is – you’re drinking some sort of waterous… watery liquid. (“Waterous” is a new word that I’m going to coin right here. You heard it here first – waterous.) Anyway, we all drink water and we need to have water to survive. It is an essential part of life for human beings but we don’t drink seventeen gallons at one time. We don’t drink seventeen gallons in one day. We don’t drink twelve gallons in one day because it would probably kill us. The dosage really, really, really, really matters. Maybe I could get away with ten gallons a day if I were in a room that had the heat on up to 120 degrees and I was sweating and doing, I don’t know, doing hot Pilates or something for an eighteen-hour period or twenty four hour period. May be I can get away drinking ten gallons of water in that context. But for most of us, ten gallons a day is probably too much and would probably lead to water toxicity.

Food, it’s totally normal for humans to eat food. Let’s just assume you eat meat. (I know some of you don’t but let’s just say you eat meat.) Steak is delicious, ribs are delicious. I like meat just like you. I eat other things besides meat though. The meat is good for me. The protein is good for me. I don’t think it would be particularly healthy for me to eat nothing but steak and ribs all day, every day nor would it be particularly healthy for me to eat all those steak and ribs in insane quantities like say, ten pounds of meat a day. I mean, it just wouldn’t be good, right? And that’s a question of dosage. I can’t think of a situation where eating that much meat is probably necessary or survivable for any prolonged period of time, but there’s probably a context that you know, maybe if I were working out non-stop for twenty four hours. And the… I don’t know. I can’t think of a good reason to eat that much meat.

But in any case, the point is that the dosage and the context really, really matter. So is sitting itself bad for you? Not really. But sitting for eighteen hours a day where you’re never doing anything to train your body to do something else, yeah, probably not. Just like if you spend your entire day just drinking just gallons and gallons of water, probably not good for you because you really set things out of balance. You should be spending some of your time not just drinking water but also exercising, also doing some work, also eating food, getting calories into your body to help your body survive, right? Getting vitamins, nutrition. The same way we look at drinking water is the same way we need to look at sitting. Sitting in the right context, in the right amount is fine; it’s not going to kill you. But sitting all day long, never getting any exercise, doing everything you possibly can from a seated position is not a good lifestyle choice. Not because the sitting activity is bad for you but because you’re just getting too much of it.

So I thought this was a really, really, really important topic and that’s why I decided to share it with you. I hope that the analogy has kind of clarified my thoughts on this. I hope it clarifies for you, really, a healthier way of looking at the whole sitting debate and the whole standing desk, walking treadmill whatever desks. Hopefully this gives you a context to see how you can practically adjust your life to make things better for your body. It’s not the sitting, it’s just the amount.

So that’s it for today. I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s podcast. If you have other questions about other topics that you’d like us to discuss here at Upright Health, please feel free to get in touch. If you go to brainfood.uprighthealth.com and go to the “contact us” page, you’ll find that there’s a contact form where you can submit questions to be answered on YouTube. And those are also questions that we look out for answering here on the podcast. So go ahead and look us up, see us on the internet and send us your messages and we’ll try to answer your questions as thoroughly and promptly as we can. And again, I apologize for that very long delay between episodes.

Thanks for listening. I hope this has been helpful and I hope you remember that pain sucks, life shouldn’t.



About the Author