Stand-Up Stand-Down

Lately there has been an explosion of stand-up desks at our office.  Old-fashioned sit-down desks — the kind that I use — are increasingly being replaced by adjustable desks that allow you to move your computer from a desktop location to stand-height.  I’ve gotten used to walking past offices and seeing people standing rigidly behind their desks, starting at their computer screens and clicking on their mouses.

skymall-adSeveral people in our office have gone even farther, and opted for non-adjustable, permanent stand-up desks — but even that might not be enough for the true believers.  The last time I was in the office of the Biking Brewer, for example, he not only had a permanent stand-up desk, he had no chairs of any kind in his workspace, explaining that if he had a chair he might be tempted to sit in it.  So, the last time I stopped in to talk, I ended up kind of perching on a narrow window ledge during our conversation.

If you ask the stand-up crew why they’ve chosen these new desks, the inevitable response is “because it’s healthier.”  You’ll hear about burning more calories by standing than sitting, and avoiding heart and back problems, and enhancing bone density, but all of the rationales asserts that stand-up desks are healthier than sit-down desks.

Not so fast!

Researchers are starting to question whether the stand-up desks — or for that matter treadmill desks, or exercise-bike desks — really make an appreciable difference.  The studies that purport to show that stand-up desks make a positive health difference have been found to be small and poorly designed, and health researchers note that standing for long period can have adverse health consequences — like causing enlarged veins.  Enlarged veins?  That sounds vaguely disgusting.

Of course, people should try to move around at work.  Take the stairs rather than the elevator.  Consider whether you should walk to a co-worker’s office rather than sending an email or making a call.  Get away from your desk and walk during the noon hour.  But let’s have a little skepticism about studies that purport to show that stand-up desks are the key to office good health.

In fact, the health researchers quoted in the news article linked above says that most of impetus for stand-up desks right now is that they are “fashionable.”  I’ll say!  But  I’ll gladly resist the trend and just plop my keister down in my comfortable chair at my desk before I get to work.

Elimination Diets And The Value Of Beans

The latest diet trend, apparently, is the “elimination diet.” I say “apparently” because it’s impossible for an average person to stay on top of dietary fads. Is “juicing” still hot, or have we moved on to the “Dukan diet” or some other variation?

An “elimination diet” is one in which the dieter stops consuming entire categories of foods — say, eggs and dairy products — for a few weeks, to see whether the dietary change causes some positive change in their body condition. If you’ve got a chronic sour stomach or embarrassing gastrointestinal tendencies, maybe ceasing your gluten or nut consumption might help. And, as is always the case with this kind of diet topic, there are enthusiastic proponents of the elimination diet concept who swear that it has dramatically changed their lives for the better.

It’s hard for me to believe that any person who is paying attention isn’t aware of the eventual bodily impact of certain foods. I know that if I eat carryout Chinese food it will suck every ounce of moisture from my body and cause me to wake up the next morning with a mouthful of salt. I know that if I eat chili with beans for lunch my co-workers will want me to stay out of elevators for the rest of the day. I don’t think I need to eliminate entire categories of food to figure out the cause-and-effect chain.

Speaking of beans, they highlight one other problem with the “elimination diet.” A recent study has concluded that eating beans, peas, and other legumes lowers “bad cholesterol,” which is a cardiovascular health marker. In view of the fact that we are regularly bombarded with studies that provide us with often conflicting information about the health effects of eating certain foods — and always at precise portion sizes — how are you supposed to know if your elimination diet has cut out the magical food that might help you avoid a crippling heart attack or diabetes?

I’ve lived long enough to have seen the “food pyramid” revised once or twice, been exposed to countless studies about foods, and seen diet fads go from Scarsdale to Beverly Hills and back again. I’m convinced that if you want to stay trim, the formula is simple — consume in moderation, avoid too many sweets, and get plenty of exercise. For most of us, however, it’s not the plan that’s the problem, it’s the execution.