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Douglas Paddon-Jones

Taking a stand

Galveston County Daily News, April 8, 2014 - (Link unavailable)

By Douglas Paddon-Jones

You're probably sitting down while reading this editorial. Did you grab a coffee, pull up a chair and open the newspaper (or go online)? That's what I do. I get up early, exercise, prepare breakfast and then sit down to catch up on the daily news. Then I drive to work, sit at my desk, drive home . . . can you see a familiar pattern?

My research program at the University of Texas Medical Branch promotes health and seeks to understand how and why individuals lose muscle and strength when they are physically inactive (e.g., injured, ill or placed on bed rest).

So, I must admit that I was a little embarrassed when I started reading about stand-up desks and realized the hypocrisy of my behavior. For a big chunk of the day (sleeping: 8 hours; commuting: 2 hours; desk work: 6 hours; meals/reading, etc.: 3 hours), I was a poster child for inactivity.

I ordered my stand-up desk the next day.

Now, you may well ask "are stand-up desks just another fad (maybe a little bit), or are the risks of prolonged sitting real?" The research is actually quite compelling and surprisingly user-friendly. Just don't get too distracted by overly dramatic headlines ("sitting is as bad as smoking!") - seriously?

Here are a few tips and observations:

DON'T think you need to go from zero to stand-up desk hero in one big step. Like most things (nutrition, exercise, etc.), the biggest risk of failure or negative consequence occurs when you succumb to the "all or nothing" approach. Wait a week or two before putting your office chair on eBay.

DO transition slowly. Before replacing all your office furniture, why not give standing a free trial? Rig up a simple reading platform and see if standing will actually work for you (and there's no need to unleash your inner MacGyver; a simple box will do the trick).

DON'T think you need to spend every minute of the day standing. Realistically, some tasks are more effectively done sitting down. Many stand-up desks are adjustable and can be moved from a standing to seated position in less than 20 seconds.

DON'T just stand there. The whole premise is based on movement. Change position, lean, shuffle your feet, stand on one leg. Movement is critical to reduce fatigue and avoid blood pooling in your lower legs. Do something!

DO accessorize. A stand-up stool (e.g., Muvman), good shoes and an anti-fatigue mat make the experience much more pleasant.

So, are the benefits of a stand-up desk tangible? The research, mostly analyses of large data sets, warns of a possible association between excessive sitting and a host of outcomes you really want to avoid - heart disease, diabetes . . . death.

While that's certainly reason enough to get up out of your chair, stand-up desk users also report having more energy during the day and improved productivity.

Are you still sitting down?

Douglas Paddon-Jones is a professor in the Department of Nutrition and Metabolism at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. He has done extensive research on muscle metabolism and protein synthesis. For the latest research on nutrition and metabolism, visit shp.utmb.edu/nutr.