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Sitting Is Bad for You. So I Stopped. For a Whole Month.

Enforced standing has made me realize how much of my time bonding with my family is spent seated.  

April 14

8:30 Wife is super-impressed with me as I use scissors to trim Dr. Scholl’s insoles at the kitchen counter while our kids eat breakfast. The guy at the deli counter recommended them to me! I roll back and forth. They feel pretty good!

7:00 One day on these insoles and they’ve gone completely Flat Stanley.

TOTAL SIT: 20 minutes (15 car, 5 toilet)

When I finally do lie down in bed each night, my calves spasm for like half an hour. I am hitting snooze on my alarm more mornings than I have since the era of late-night feedings. That daily trick we all play every morning—where we fool ourselves that the bright and awful day has more to offer us than our warm bed, just for a moment, just long enough to get up—is much tougher to pull off when I know I have 17 consecutive hours of standing ahead of me. Let me lie down a little longer, I think. Let this not count.

April 22

7:00 Feel unusually happy and close to my family this evening. Realize why when H. yells, “You’re sitting!”: I absentmindedly plunked down at the table through dinner.

8:30 At bedtime, I read stories to the kids, not snuggled up cozily next to them but looming over their beds like an Edwardian headmaster. “You shoulda never said yes to writing that story, Dad,” says L. dolefully, shaking her head at the foolishness of it all. She’s right.

TOTAL SIT: 40 minutes (25 car, 10 accidental dinner, 5 toilet)

“Science has known for a long time that standing all the time is bad for you,” Dr. April Chambers tells me. “Longer than we’ve known about sitting.” Chambers, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Pittsburgh, studies people who are on their feet all day at work. She reminds me that most standers aren’t jerks like me, doing it for a stunt—they’re workers with no choice. “Seven of the ten top occupations require standing for a prolonged period,” she says. “Retail, manufacturing, health care: There are big workforces where people stand a lot.”

Because of the density of research that ceaseless standing causes health problems —varicose veins, lower-back pain, increased risk of stroke—many workplaces now supply sit-stand stools or at least foster movement by employees. (Capitalism being capitalism, it didn’t hurt that research also showed that uninterrupted standing hurt worker productivity.) In jobs where standing all day is the norm, a kind of lore is passed down from worker to worker—it’s why so many female nurses, for example, swear by Dansko clogs, and many factory workers use Superfeet insoles. One nurse told me he’s worn the same model of Asics running shoes for over ten years, stocking up whenever they go on sale.

The lesson from Dr. Chambers is the same lesson I’ve heard from every scientist, from my doctor and my wife and an appalled massage therapist: Standing all the time is no better than sitting all the time. The key is—surprise!—to do some of each. How much? Opinions differ. “Yes, a sedentary life is bad,” says Chambers, “but no one seems to have identified yet where that healthy balance is between sedentary and standing.” Nearly all the scientists I talk to have sit-stand desks; they set alarms or use apps and utilities like BreakTime to remind them to stand up for about ten minutes every hour. They stand for meetings and phone calls—“I’m standing right now!” I keep hearing from scientists—and then they plop down to write or read.

Even when you’re standing still and working, you can do things to ease the pressure on your legs. Dr. Jack Callaghan of the University of Waterloo tells me that in his research on standing and back pain, the primary difference he sees between “pain developers” and “non–pain developers” is posture. “Raising a foot—I have a blue recycle bin and I’ve turned it over, and I alternate legs, putting one foot on that and then the other.” It also helps to stand on a very slight slope, “one that can raise your toes just a little bit.” When I explain the situation to a massage therapist, she intones, “Oh, shit,” then teaches me a great Achilles stretch. These techniques, plus my own steady stream of invective, help make my later weeks on my feet more tolerable than the earlier ones.

Until April 28.

April 28

Hit wall. Completely fucking dead. Wife rubbed my feet tonight. If Sitting Dan got a foot massage from his wife, he’d thank her. Standing Dan is a whiny asshole. Email to friend: “If a nun gave me a $100 bill I would be like, screw you, my legs hurt.”