Q & A: The #1 Way to Extend Your Life Span

Q.  Can you comment on the whole concept of stand-up desks? I know that sitting is the new smoking. Is it just a matter of standing at my desk (with everything elevated)? Or is there more to it than that? What exactly is it about standing with minimal other movement that is so much healthier than sitting? Erin

A.  Thank you, Erin, for the excellent question! Stand-up desks have become increasingly more popular during the last several years.  The latest research indicates that sitting for more than two hours at a time can significantly lessen your life span.  The real headline should be: Even if you are a regular exerciser, sitting for more than two hours a day will still lower your life span. The take home message is that frequent movement throughout the entire day is critical for health. A stand-up desk could be beneficial if you follow these simple guidelines:

  • Do not stand still. Standing still for long periods of time is as equally hard on the body (particularly in the lower lumbar, knees, ankles, and feet) as sitting. It can cause negative effects in the joints as well as cause circulation issues. Use a foot stool and frequently shift your weight and stand in different positions. Modify your position at least every five minutes.
  • Do not stand on a hard surface. Standing on a hard surface all day is not natural. Our native environment is full of softer surfaces such as dirt, sand, bark, and grass. Rarely would someone stand on a large section of concrete or granite without moving. Instead, I recommend standing on a rubber mat similar to the one a grocery store cashier may utilize in order to take the strain off of the low back and the joints of the lower extremities.
  • Get a treadmill desk. Walking all day long isn’t practical. An excellent way to keep moving (without excessive strain or fatigue) would be to have a treadmill on which you could slowly walk on as you work for several hours per day. The treadmill desk would allow you to keep moving and maintain a higher metabolic rate without excessive strain (as long as it is kept at a slow pace).


  • Do not stand all day. Standing all day isn’t any better than sitting all day. The key to optimize your health is frequent moving. A desk that can be adjusted to sit or stand would be ideal. If you can combine it with a treadmill desk, then you would have the ultimate work station. When sitting at a desk, I recommend using a large Thera-Band exercise ball. The exercise ball provides you with the benefit of more movement while you work on your postural and core muscle development.
  • Go barefoot. We spend so much of our day in shoes that our feet forget what it is like to be unsupported and to actually feel the ground, which helps with balance to support our bodies. I recommend standing barefoot when possible and appropriate. If lower extremity swelling is an issue for you, then you may need an over-the-counter compression sock. Vitalsox Graduated Compression Socks can help you manage the swelling in your feet and can help prevent conditions such as spider veins or varicose veins.

When standing or sitting, pay close attention to your posture. Slouching while sitting or standing can cause pain and eventually, dysfunction.  My Top 8 Stretches to Eliminate Neck, Upper Back, and Shoulder Pain, full of photos and exercise instructions, can help you maintain good posture in sitting or standing.

What are your experiences in dealing with stand-up desks or treadmill desks? Are you intrigued to try one?  Feel free to leave your comments below.

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2 thoughts on “Q & A: The #1 Way to Extend Your Life Span

  1. What do you think of “barefoot” shoes like Vibrams, etc.? Are they as good as going barefoot or does it depend on how much arch support there is?

    • Thank you, Matt, for the great question! This is a very controversial subject. Presently, there is literature that supports “barefoot” or minimalistic shoes as well as a more traditional shoe. I don’t think the issue is as black and white as some would want it to be. In the Western world, most of us were brought up wearing shoes. To switch to a minimalistic shoe (without a very length transition) almost always leads to injury. If a person wants to switch, it needs to be slow–over the course of 3-6 months at least. It’s easier to switch the younger you are.

      Also, you have to consider the surface you are spending most of your time on. If it is a native surface (such as grass, dirt, bark, and sand), then switching makes more sense and is more beneficial. If you spend most of your time on concrete, then I don’t recommend switching. You need the extra cushion to compensate for the unnatural surface. However, you could choose a less built up or supportive shoe.

      My recommendation is to wear shoes when on hard surfaces or surfaces which would obviously need a solid shoe. If you are at home or on grass or other softer surfaces, then spending time barefoot is very good. There are health benefits to the feet and body system when the feet can actually touch the earth. If you are not a barefoot person, then you will need to progress very slowly, so the muscle and bones of the feet can slowly develop. If you have children, make sure they spend time in their bare feet. It is important to their development and will have lasting effects into adulthood.

      Regarding running in a minimalistic shoe, the jury is still out. Some people have found it very beneficial. Others end up with injuries (likely due to a rapid transition). We will have to see where all the research settles out. If you are going to switch, just remember to switch slowly. Otherwise, go barefoot in the grass. It’s good for the soul!

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