Sitting All Day Is Literally Killing Us

I wrote 18 months ago about the negative health effects of spending all day at your desk. Part of what prompted that post was a chilling story in the New York Times about the negative health effects of sitting. A Mayo Clinic study, the first of its kind, showed that sitting has numerous effects on the body, none of them good.

The news is only getting worse. Nilofer Merchant blogged recently in Harvard Business Review about how the evidence keeps piling up that we are greatly increasing our chances of dropping dead by sitting all day. But Merchant also offers a smart suggestion for making a change without quitting your job.

Not surprisingly, we are sitting more and more every year. And the negative effects are not just being measured in terms like obesity rates and the like. Sitting is now being described more and more frequently as lethal, and exercise, while it absolutely improves your health, does not compensate for the effects of all that sitting.

Walk with me, talk with me

What to do? Merchant notes the increasing popularity of standing desks. But she also has developed another simple and ingenious solution to the sitting problem: walking meetings. You walk while you talk.

Granted, you need someplace to walk while you meet. And weather can keep you inside. But why not walk up and down a quiet hallway? The parking ramp? Stairs? You can get a conference room and push the chairs back and walk slowly around the table while you meet. (I know this may sound silly, but it’s no sillier than sitting on an exercise ball, is it?) I see people at my office wearing their wireless headsets and walking around slowly while on conference calls.

To take notes (unless you can type one-handed on your tablet or are a much faster phone typist than I am) you may need to get a steno pad and a pen that actually writes well. But typing up hand-written notes (if you think it necessary) is a great way to clarify (and remember) the discussion you just had.

We have to do something to save ourselves from having saved ourselves from an awful life of manual labor. So get off your duff and get moving.

(image: working to death from Shutterstock)


  1. Avatar Leo says:

    This is why I went standing desk months ago. Sitting in a chair, hunched over my desk, staring into my laptop started to really take its toll on my lower back, buttocks, and thighs.

    Since I went standing desk, I no longer have these problems at all. I occasionally sit for a client meeting to to read an extended passages, but 90% of the day I am on my feet.

    It has an added bonus of making me tired by the end of the day.

    • You’re right about the importance of being physically tired at the end of the day. If you aren’t, you won’t sleep well, and that can cause your health to decline even faster. Working out can get you to that point, but there isn’t always time for that every day.

  2. Sam Glover Sam G. says:

    I used a standing desk for a while, and liked it. Then, when I outfitted my home office, I went with standard sitting desks. But I’m doing more sitting at my computer than ever, and I’m terrified of these studies.

    I’m currently using a yoga ball, which suits my fidgety nature even better than standing. But I’m trying to figure out how to incorporate standing into my day. My current plan is to buy one of these, and add it to my regular desk.

  3. Avatar Jeremy says:

    how about these?

    Plus is they have an iMac version!

  4. Avatar David McLeod says:

    Client’s NEVER see my office where I actually work. So, aesthetics be damned. So many standing desks seem to be missing drawers… they don’t have any. I simply raised my regular desk off the ground; made two platforms to sit under the two drawer stacks. Not pretty but it was cheap and works great. I am considering moving my office space to a warehouse/office type complex and trading granite and high end finishes for something more basic and functional. Perhaps have a traditional well appointed conference room and reception area and warehouse space for offices complete with super high ceilings and a roll up door. Basketball hoop, slack line, skateboard, mountain bike and tools for tinkering on my latest projects in the warehouse space. After practicing for twenty years, I still feel like a caged animal sitting in a traditional office wearing a suit. Nobody really works all of the time that they are at the office… daydreaming, internet surfing etc. Why not get up and interject some fun into the routine. Keep the suit on a hangar and put it on when you have a meeting or court appearance.

  5. Wonderful information and helpful suggestions to the sitting dilemma! As an author, sitting hunched over my laptop takes a toll on my shoulders and posture. As soon as I read this eye opening article about too much sitting, I moved my laptop to a tall bookcase where I can stand. Also rethinking the arrangement of my work space to allow more standing. Thanks for the inspiration! Author of Twenty-Eight Snow Angels

  6. Avatar John Harding says:

    Here is the story of me and my stand up desk. (that I love!)

  7. Avatar Hilary says:

    There are also solutions out there for people who aren’t sure they want to convert and don’t want to spend a lot of money (or end up with a large piece of furniture). I’m looking at getting a laptop stand from Amazon that sits on my desk and can convert from standing to sitting. I already use a laptop stand to adjust my screen height, so this isn’t a huge change for me – and I have a beautiful desk that I don’t want to replace.

    The stand is even available with cooling fans for those who have laptop overheating problems (though I think the vented one should be fine for most office users). The stand plus an attachable mouse shelf (shown in the “Frequently Bought Together” combo with both stands) costs only $75-80 – and I can use it on the couch or in bed if I don’t like the standing desk setup, so I’m not ordering something I might not use.

    If you want a starter stand-alone standing desk, there’s a fairly sturdy and well-reviewed one available for around $60 on Amazon as well.

    Here are some links:

    Vented stand:

    Stand with cooling fans:

    Attachable mouse shelf:

    Standing laptop desk/cart with shelves:

  8. Avatar Sharon Coleman says:

    Over a year ago, I developed a miserable soft tissue injury to my right knee after sitting too many hours, working on long document, on the wooden desk chair I’ve used for 35 yrs. I realized I should change to a standing position immediately and placed a plastic storage box on top of a good-sized typing table for my laptop — about the right height for a short person, and on a smaller typing stand I added a file size plastic box for a mouse pad and any other small item needed at close hand. The knee finally healed, but I’m sold on standing position for routine computer work. I have not yet seen a commercial standing desk that seems right for my needs — enough surface space, strong enough for leaning, height adjustable but not too bulky and heavy. When I do need to sit, I find sitting more on the edge of an uncomfortable straight chair does the job without temptation to stay too long.

  9. Avatar Chrisotpher Gossage says:

    I am taking an Ergonomics class currently, and there is more pressure on your spine while sitting than playing most sports. It is really bad for you.

  10. Avatar C. A. Gadd says:

    I totally agree with “Sitting All Day Is Literally Killing Us”! Sitting for the majority of the day is SO unhealthy & can be a killer. For me personally, sitting made my crepitus in the knees worse, because it weakened my thigh and hip muscles. As a litigation paralegal for 28+ years, I was most productive for my firm by sitting at my desk preparing documents, correspondence, email and coordinating matters by phone…..I made money by sitting at my desk and billing my time….and being the type of person who can’t leave work until all the pressing tasks are completed it made it worse because I worked a lot of hours. So….everyone get up from your desk…take a break…change your work station….and even more important make exercise a routine and norm in your life outside of your work hours. One of the main reasons I left my position a few months ago was because I truly didn’t want to sit all day….I am much healthier and happier as a result.

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