Sitting is the new smoking, but standing is the new sitting

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Sitting is the new smoking, but standing is the new sitting

An overview of how quality movement effects brain health, joint health and lymph health. 

By Elisabeth Kristof

We all know that sitting all day is bad for you – it’s the new smoking after all. But the real inconvenient truth, which is shown more increasingly through research, is that a standing desk isn’t actually any better. The real problem isn’t whether you’re sitting still or standing still. The problem is the stillness. The human body was made for movement. Every part of our health and vitality is affected by our movement – or lack of it.

Brain Function: Quality movement is key to brain function. That’s the most important thing. Motor control lives in the frontal lobe of the brain, along with decision making, will power, behavior change and cognition. When you train the brain for improved motor control, you are improving frontal lobe function and all the areas of the frontal lobe that impact your life are improved. Simply put: you move better, feel better, think better. In fact, according to neuroscientist and engineer, Daniel Wolpert, the entire reason the human brain evolved was not to think or feel, but to control movement.

Joint Health: Quality movement and balanced muscular development protects our joints and improves our posture to reduce pain and prevent injury. “Our bodies are built for movement, and movement helps joints stay healthy,” says Eric Matteson, M.D., chair of Rheumatology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. To maintain proper function of joints they must be moved through all ranges of motion on a regular basis.


The Lymph System: So what is the lymphatic system and why is it important? The lymphatic system is a network of tissues and organs which help rid the body of toxins, waste and unwanted materials. The lymph fluid is what transports white blood cells that fight infections. Muscle contractions are needed to pump blood and lymph through the body against gravity, ensuring better immune system function. The most important thing to remember about the lymphatic system is that, unlike the cardiovascular system where the heart automatically pumping fluid, the lymph system relies on our body movements and muscle contractions as a pump.

When implementing movement, strive for balance. While it’s important to keep moving, it’s crucial to strike a healthy balance between exercise and rest. As with any medicine, it’s possible to overdose on movement by doing too much. In general, it’s better to do a modest amount of movement daily rather than knock yourself out with a big bout of exercise once a week.

It also matters HOW you move. Continuing to move in patterns that are unhealthy for joints, or in ways that further imbalance, leads to feeling worse after movement. Taking the time to understand how the body should move is crucial. You need to innervate the right muscles and understand that the correct alignment is essential to better quality of movement – and in turn, better quality of life.

According to Carol Kruciff, RYT, and Michael Krucoff, MD, one of the critical problems is that people misinterpret their body signals as a need for rest, rather than for movement. We know that when we’re hungry we should eat, and when we’re tired we should sleep. But when we get stiff, achy and sluggish, we generally don’t recognize these signals as cues that our body craves movement. Instead, we misinterpret them as a need for rest, which makes us stiffer, achier and even more sluggish. In our sedentary society, many adults have smothered their body’s natural impulse to move and have forgotten that exercise is essential to health.

To sustain movement as an everyday part of life requires finding the joy in it. Let go of thinking how you’re going to look from the exercise and focus on the intrinsic benefits of the exercise. Completing a work out to achieve an external goal, without enjoying the process, won’t last. Find movement that lights you up and make it a passion.

Similarly, working out just so that you will live longer is not always the best plan. Who knows when the universe decides otherwise, or what role your genes will play in disease development. It is more effective to learn to move daily because it makes you feel good TODAY. Allow each single day to be better, filled with more joy and less pain because of movement.

The answer to improving pain is not a standing desk. The whole issue really boils down to the “absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself” notes study author Melvyn Hillsdon of the University of Exeter. “Regardless of whether we’re standing or sitting, the fact that we’re expending little to no energy is what is affecting our health.”


This post brought to you by Elisabeth, RedBird Co-Owner and PMA-CPT, who loves to talk movement science and behavior change, so if you have questions email at elisabeth@redbirdpilates.com