Sitting Desk – Dan’s Plan

Balancing Standing and Sitting Across the Workday (Podcast with Professor Travis Saunders)

Women at desk - Dan's Plan

Is sitting really the new smoking? This idea became popular a few years ago and research supports that, indeed, too much sitting really is bad for us. But, as I discussed with Professor Matthew Buman, while no amount of smoking is healthy, sitting is a health behavior, it just becomes problematic when we do too much of it.

Travis Saunders - Dan's Plan

Professor Travis Saunders // Image Source:

In the most recent episode of humanOS Radio (iTunes, Stitcher, YouTube), I speak with Professor Travis Saunders of The University of Prince Edwards Island. Travis is also the founder the Sedentary Behavior Research Network, which is how I learned of his work. Much of his research looks at the influence of sitting behavior on health in both children and adults. In order to move the needle on this subject, he looks at the topic from a variety of research angles ranging from interventions done in the lab with humans to population-level epidemiological studies and systematic reviews. In our discussion, we explore what’s known and not known on the subject, and also practical ways to find the sweet spot for daily standing time.

You can listen to our discussion here and you can find a transcript of our chat below:


Productivity – Sitting vs. Standing

I use a standing desk and believe I have greatly benefitted from it. Once you acclimate to standing more, it feels strange to sit for too long. Previously, I wrote about my strategy to stay mentally sharp at work by using light intensity movement to augment brain blood flow throughout the day. I admit, however, that I made a critical mistake recently when I set up my new office – I didn’t create a good area to sit and work. I set up my office for a standing desk only.  What I’ve noticed is that my productivity suffers at the end of the day if I stand too much. To illustrate my observation of my own productivity when standing, sitting or standing and sitting, I create this short youtube video:

Resources for Standing Desks & Desk Ergonomics

  1. Bekant (Ikea)
  2. GeekDesks 
  3. The Human Solution 
  4. VariDesk 
  5. Autonomous 

4 Steps to set up your workstation from UCLA ergonomics.



Travis Saunders


It’s way too hard to try and carve out a half hour in the evening to do exercise. That’s going to be at the expense of something else that’s also important, making food, spending time with your spouse or whatever. Where as if you get it throughout the day, in these little chunks, it doesn’t take anything away from your work, but at the end of the day you’re done. It’s the perfect situation.


HumanOS, learn, master, achieve.


Dan Pardi:





Greeting everybody, welcome to another episode of HumanOS radio. We all know that lifestyle factors like physical activity and diet have a massively important impact on our risk for chronic disease. However, in the last 10, maybe 15 years newer research suggests that the more that someone sits the greater their risk of death and disease, regardless of their diet and level of physical activity. To discuss this topic further, today we have guest Dr. Travis Saunders. Professor Travis Saunders thank you so much for joining us at HumanOS radio. Let’s begin by telling us what you study and where you do your work.


Travis Saunders:












Thanks for having me. I study sedentary behavior. I study physical activity broadly, but my real research focus is on sedentary behavior which is basically sitting and activities done while sitting. It’s like watching TV, using a computer, reading. I study the health impact of those behaviors. I’m currently an assistant professor at the University of PEI in Prince Albert Island, Canada. I guess I got into this area, I’m an exercise physiologist by training. My undergraduate degree is in kinesiology. I was originally interested in sort of sport performance. Then my masters had moved sort of more towards health and physical activity. I did some stuff with Dr. Bob Ross at Queens University, looking at physical activity and hormones and obesity. My PhD it kind of shifted again to focus more on sitting, and sort of the research showing no matter how much you exercise, sitting is still bad for you. I found that really interesting as someone who is really active, but also sat a lot. I sort of made that my research focus moving forward.


Dan Pardi: We haven’t discussed this yet, but I have a masters in exercise [phys 00:02:08] myself. I graduated in 1996. At that time sedentary behavior and inactivity physiology was not a thing at all. When did this field really start to emerge into existence?


Travis Saunders:











It was around 2001 or 2002, were the first couple studies. There was some animal studies that came out around then. I think people have been looking at TV viewing for a long time, but a lot of it was looking at TV and not necessarily physical health, but mental health or social health, that sort of thing. It’s funny when you say that because I graduate my undergrad in 2006 I guess. So 10 years after you and even then we were taught if you were exercising 45 minutes a day nothing else mattered. Nothing else could possibly matter. All that mattered was moderate to vigorous physical activity. That’s why I found this really interesting. Even when I was doing my PhD I would talk to old school exercise physiologist who still say, “Well it doesn’t matter. It’s all about energy expenditure and exercising at a high intensity. Nothing else could possibly matter.” Even in my thesis defense we had those discussions with people who were involved with some of my projects. It’s a big paradigm shift.


It’s funny because my students now that I teach look at me like I’m crazy and say, “Well of course sitting matters. Like sitting’s obviously bad for you.” They have no concept of this giant paradigm shift that happened in the past 15 years. Some people still just can’t get their minds around it, some exercise physiologists. Which I find really fascinating.


Dan Pardi: I think that holds true with so many fields when there is such a large paradigm shift. It’s hard for some people to make the adjustment. It’s interesting to hear you say now it’s common place. Students that are learning it now it’s like, “Yeah of course that makes sense.’


Travis Saunders:







Yeah and it’s not surprising I guess that I would get the most critical comments when I present in front of a academic audience as opposed to a lay audience. It’s funny when I go and talk to a group of parents or to … Here we have, they call it seniors college on campus, where older adults can come and take courses. A bunch of us researchers we’ll do little talks and stuff. When I give those talks everyone’s nodding along like yeah this makes perfect sense. Then when I go to a physiology conference and do the same talk, that’s where I really meet the resistance of people who deny the basic premise that sitting could matter. It is very interesting I find.


Dan Pardi: I’ve seen this many times. When something merges into existence, there of course can be those that remain steadfast in rejecting this new way of thinking whole sale. Then there are this other side where as this new shiny object that becomes accepted as law prematurely. Even holding an exaggerated opinion of it’s importance. It’s like, “Now it’s here and it explains everything.”


Travis Saunders: Right.


Dan Pardi: When I spoke with Professor Matt Beaman of Arizona State University, on HumanOS radio a few episodes back, we discussed the popular analogy that sitting is the new smoking. He was keen to point out that no degree of smoking is healthy, but sitting is a health behavior. It’s not that sitting itself is bad, it’s just that we do it too much. How do you educate around the nuance there.


Travis Saunders:




In my own life I feel like I have a very common sense approach to it. I recognize that you need to sit sometimes. I have a standing desk at work, or a sit stand desk so I can sit and stand. Right now I’m standing because I feel like standing, but usually I sit about half a day and stand about half a day. I think it’s silly to only stand. There’s lots of bad things about only standing as well. It’s funny because when I talk to people I just take it for granted that like well of course you’re going to still sit some, but like you said some people hear the message that sitting is bad for you and just decide I will never sit again. That’s not a good message either.


I think it’s doing things like this and having actual conversations with people is where you notice the unintended consequences of people taking things not quite the way you meant them to be taken or who just take things a bit too literally when they read a headline somewhere. I think this is how you get that nuance across. People understand no, no, no it’s not about never sitting. It’s just about being conscious about when you want to sit and standing when you want to stand. As opposed to just always defaulting to sitting down.


Dan Pardi: Looking at your publications. I see that you’re looking at the subject from every possible angle that you can. Is there any good guidance on goals for standing time during the day?


Travis Saunders:



There’s a little bit. Public health England released a paper at the end of last summer suggestion that people should aim for at least hours a day of standing, moving towards 4 hours a day. If a typical work day is 8 hours, aim for standing for a quarter of the time and then moving to standing for about half the time. Now, that’s not stationary standing. That’s standing for a few minutes, that’s breaking up your sitting. That might be taking a walking meeting. To try limit half your work day to sitting down. That’s sort of their suggestion. That’s sort of an arbitrary line in the sand. I don’t think there’s necessarily a lot of evidence to support that yet. It seems like a pretty reasonable suggestion and in the few studies I’ve seen where they give people standing desks for example, people tend to reduce their sitting by 2 to 3 hours a day if you give somebody a desk that allows them to stand. It seems sort of in the range of what people will naturally do if you give them a work place that allows them to stand.


Dan Pardi: I have a standing desk. I stand all day. You mentioned that there could be some negative consequences. Is there such a thing as standing too much?


Travis Saunders:





Being in any posture for a long time is typically not good. I know my bio-mechanics is not terribly strong aside from a few course in undergrad. I do know that people who stay in any position whether sitting or standing for a long period tend to have problems. People who are on their feet all day often have varicose veins, they have swelling and blood pooling their lower limbs. It’s not good to stand in a fixed posture all day. That being said, like when I’m talking right now, I’m not standing perfectly still. I’m actually moving quite a bit while I’m standing and talking. I think it probably depends on how you stand. What I recommend is that people who can use common sense like you would with a training program at the gym. You’re first few days you might be sore, ease back a bit. If you consistently are feeling uncomfortable, well then there’s probably a problem you should probably speak to someone about or change what you’re doing. If you’re standing all day and don’t see any problems and feel good well then you’re probably fine.


People need to first of all make sure they have a pretty ergonomic set up with their work station. Sure your monitor is at the right height, their keyboard is at the right height, and then make sure they’re listening to their body and not trying to stand even though their legs are exhausted or their back hurts or something like that.


Dan Pardi:





I write about how physical activity can augment cognition. Looking at that from a variety of different angles, it’s a topic that’s super interesting to me. What I found is that when I move around, when I’m standing, and it’s active standing as you’re describing, I’ll work for a little bit, I’ll pace when I’m phone calls, and then I’ll actually intermittently include physical activity whether it’s body weight squats and things like that. I actually feel like I perform better when I do that. I also notice I get a little sluggish when I am just standing there for a little while. Particularly in the later half of the day if I’ve been standing all day. I just don’t quite have the perfect set up currently, but I’m looking to create that. Yeah, I think a little more sitting time would be beneficial for me, but I don’t love just having my laptop sitting on the couch and having the laptop on my lap. That’s kind of my option currently.


Travis Saunders: Laptops are tough. As I’ve sort of gotten a standing desk, I got the sit stand desk about a year and a half ago now. The thing I noticed right away are laptops are not good for standing desks unless you have a separate keyboard because either you’ve got the laptop at the right height for your keyboard and the screen is way too low or you’ve the screen up at the right height, but the keyboard is way too high. You do what I call what I call T-Rex typing with your hands all kind of up by your neck. I have found this is one area where having a desktop computer or just having a separate keyboard makes a world of difference in terms of making it a functional set up.



Dan Pardi:


Now do you have a resource if people wanted to set up their own standing desk, that tell you where your hands should be, how far your monitor should be, things like that? We can include that in show notes if you do.


Travis Saunders: I’ve seen a couple online. I don’t have any that I’ve created or know of for certain. I know stumbles across one a little while ago just from googling how to set up a standing desk basically. Unfortunately, I don’t know of a good one, but I wish there was a good one. [crosstalk 00:09:17] set up your chair and all that because it is simple, but it is important information.


Dan Pardi: The amount of time we’re spending at a computer these days is so unnatural. If your not in the ideal ergonomic set up you’re going to experience problems. I have before, years ago. When I had a sedentary job and I was sitting at a computer all day. I was working very long hours. I started to develop deep vein thrombosis. It hurt to sit for a while because I was sitting too much. I learned the consequences of overdoing it in that regard. It’s easy to do when the demands of your work keep requiring you to sit and concentrate.


Travis Saunders: Yeah.


Dan Pardi: You’ve got to be proactive about it before the injury or the issue starts.


Travis Saunders:


Yeah. I started to get to this area during my Ph.D. I was spending like 8 to 10 hours a day reading about the health impact of sitting. I was sitting for that full time. I remember during my comprehensive exam just like getting paranoid that I was spending all my waking hours sitting and reading about the health impact of sitting. The nice thing is, it used to be that a standing desk or a sit-stand desk that goes up and down, they cost a couple thousand dollars. Whereas now, I have a Varidesk that’s about 500 bucks. Ergotron has one for about the same price. IKEA has one for about 500 or 600 bucks. There’s a lot more players in this market right now, and the price has dropped dramatically in the past years. There’s just a whole ton of kick-starter sit stand desks of varying levels of complexity. It’s nice that it’s at least getting a lot more affordable now that it’s not much more than buying a regular desk, to buy a desk that allows you to go up and down which is really nice.


Dan Pardi:




Being able to make good options more accessible, more convenient, more cost efficient. Even just a couple years ago, a standing desk, there was maybe one in an office. People would share it. Now, it’s common place where most desks have an option or even within a 2 or 3 desk situation there’s a standing opportunity. I’m really happy to see that. I feel like it’s actually made it into at least the Bay area culture in a significant way.


Travis Saunders: Yeah and I’ve noticed that specifically in universities. Certainly in your neck of the woods, but also in universities. I see [inaudible 00:11:12] sort of in health-related professions. I see a lot of them. I mean in our hallway, 10 offices, at least 4 or 5 have standing desks which I know is quite common in kinesiology departments. They’re certainly getting more popular.


Dan Pardi: What are some of the interesting questions that remain unresolved at this point? For example, what are the benefits of standing specifically? Is it just the absence of sitting time or are there some things that are taking place while you’re standing that are health promoting?


Travis Saunders:







That’s a good questions. I would say one thing that’s sort of a double edge sword about people moving to these sit stand desks, is that lots of us are getting them. I think so far the evidence seems to suggest yeah that’s probably a good idea, but there have been very few studies on the actual health benefits of these. There’s only been like 2 or 3 at this point. So we really don’t know if sit stand desks are actually good for you. I feel like by the time the research catches up, they’re going to be so wide spread that it will sort of be a moot point either way. People will be using them whether or not they’re good for you. Myself and a bunch of other people are scrambling to catch up to see what is the actual health benefit of this.


The rationale and the logic behind it is that we know, if you sit for 3 or 4 hours at a stretch and then I give you at the end of that some sort of sugary drink, you’re going to have a massive tsunami of blood sugar, followed by a massive tsunami of insulin. Whereas if you were standing during that period of time or even just sitting, but every half hour or hour just interrupting your sitting time, then your blood sugar response to that meal is going to be much much lower and your insulin response is probably going to be much lower. It seems like there’s something that has to do with just a low level of muscle activity. It’s not about energy expenditure. Just having muscle activity going on throughout that period means that you’re much more able to handle the dose of sugar at your next meal. That means your body doesn’t have to produce as much insulin to then deal with all that sugar.





The reason that matters is that if you have a big spike of blood sugar at every meal, well blood sugar is very damaging. Damages your blood vessels. Insulin promotes growth, including growth if things we don’t want to grow. Insulin can promote some tumor growth. That sort of thing. If your having this big spike of sugar and insulin at every meal, that’s going to be a bad thing. That’s the logic behind all this. That when you sit has very, very repeatable and significant impacts on your blood sugar at your next meal. That’s what I think is coolest about this, but the question is what happens if you get somebody to stand a bit more at work? Is that enough to actually have an impact on their blood sugar levels or is it only in this very strictly controlled lab based environment will we actually see these benefits of standing?


Dan Pardi: That’s a question that is being explored currently, but we don’t have a good answer to it right now.


Travis Saunders: No, it seems like it’s probably good, but no we don’t have a good answer yet.


Dan Pardi: How much energy does one expend over the course of a day of standing vs. sitting?


Travis Saunders:





I couldn’t give you an exact number. There have been a few studies on this. There’s not a lot. That’s actually one thing that frustrates me. I’ve seen a couple headlines. There was a school somewhere in the States, I think it was California. The parents got together and brought standing desks into the schools. I thought great. There’s lots of good reasons why giving kids options to stand might be good, both in terms of their behavior, in terms of their health, so great. The rationale for this, according to the parents who organized it was, “Hey, they’re going to burn more calories and we’ve wiped out childhood obesity.” That was the quote. “This will wipe out childhood obesity.”


I just did a massive face-palm because you’re burning a half calorie or a calorie a minute. It’s so small that it’s really not going to help you burn enough calories to have any impact on your body weight. You’re going to burn slightly more, but it’s going to add up to like a 100 calories over the course of the day. Something pretty small when you consider I eat 3,000 calories a day. It’s really a drop in the bucket. The benefits I think are really what’s happening in terms of your blood sugar, your insulin. Possibly things related to your blood pressure. Those are the health benefits. It’s not going to have any real impact on how many calories you’re burning or your body weight in any way. At least that’s my speculations based on the studies that have been done so far.


Dan Pardi:



One thing that’s a possibility if you are standing, what we were saying earlier, instead of just standing there and not moving, standing there moving you’re more apt to move around. I think if you’re standing. Particularly some people actually fidget to concentrate. If you’re fidgeting more, if you’re moving around, there could be actually more significant energy expenditures. Not on an hourly basis, but over the course of an 8 hour period. If your between 2 and 300 hundred calories carried out over 5 days a week maybe that can contribute in a positive direction towards energy regulation. Particularly if you are moving around like I do. That’s nuance that’s important to discuss as well. I know for children it’s really difficult for some kids to concentrate if you’re just sitting constrained in a chair. You actually can concentrate better if you have an ability to move around, move your body a little bit.


Travis Saunders:








Yeah absolutely. My wife’s a teacher so we talk about this all the time. A lot of schools now here in my region of Canada, you’ve got these miniature spin bikes for self-regulation systems. These kids will be like I need to go get some energy out. They’ll go and ride the bike for 2 or 3 minutes and come back to work. I think that makes sense. I think that’s a great idea. For the same reason you just really feel like you need to stand. Like if I’m at a conference, or a poster session, some sort of environment where I am expected to sit for 2 or 3 hours at a stretch without getting up. I find after about 45 minutes, I’m just so incredibly fidgety that I can’t stand it. If I have the ability to lean against a wall I feel much better.


I think it makes total sense to give kids that option to just if you feel like you need to stand then stand up, but if you want to sit then sit down. The studies that have been done so far show that teachers are pretty supportive. It doesn’t have any negative impact classroom management. If anything it probably has a benefit for the classroom behavior of the kids.


Dan Pardi: If you’re at a conference with me, you’ll see me at the back of the room standing. I think absolutely you get used to it. Once you start to stand it’s a little addictive. The idea that sitting for that same period of time becomes extra distasteful. Now, I work remotely, but I have an office where I stand most of the day. I used to move around quite a bit. Now, it’s a little bit hard for me to think about going to a coffee shop and setting up and doing some work just because god do I really want to be sitting for hours? No, I prefer standing.


Travis Saunders:



Yeah, no absolutely, absolutely. Just to come back to what you said before. I absolutely agree that when I’m standing, I’m much more likely to go for a short walk because I’m already standing. It’s like that barrier to movement is so much lower. We’re looking at that a little bit in a paper we’re working on right now. To look and see if people are a little bit more likely to initiate activity when they’re standing already. It looks like there’s a good chance. We haven’t really gotten into the data yet. It makes sense when you’re sitting it’s not like it’s that hard to get up and go for a walk down the hallway, but when you’re standing the barrier is so much lower. You don’t even think about moving, because well I’m already up on my feet.


Dan Pardi: Totally. The mental trick for me, any phone call that I have head sets on and I’m just pacing automatically without even thinking about it. My company we have, we set up something call InTune  Training. It stands for integrative and opportunistic. The idea is that your integrating movement into your day in this opportunistic fashion. So instead of having it all be planned and the half hour you’re going to do this. It’s more about okay I just finished this email, let me do 5 push ups or 10 body weight squats. You just work your movement into your day. My mindset is that by the end of my work day, I also want to have my physical work done as well. I want to have a tired body and a tired mind. Then I go relax and enjoy my night. It’s actually really satisfying once you get into that rhythm.



Travis Saunders:


I agree 100%. I did my post doc at [inaudible 00:18:00] University. I was lucky enough that my office was inside of a research space. It was just full of exercise equipment. I would do exactly like you just said. I feel like I need to go get a drink of water. I go fill up my water bottle and on the way back, a set of chin-ups, or bench press, or whatever. Yeah. It was great because it took no time. I didn’t even get changed. I just wore my work clothes, my jeans, my dress shirt, whatever shoes I had on. Did a set, I would that every half hour, 45 minutes throughout the day, and it was the physically strongest I’ve ever been, but it’s just like you say at the end of the day I felt good. I felt like I got a work out in. I feel physically good. I can go home and relax and enjoy my night.


It’s just too hard, especially if you have a partner, you have kids. It’s way too hard to try and carve out a half hour in the evening to do exercise because that’s going to be at the expense of something else that’s also important, making food, spending time with your spouse, or whatever. Whereas if you get it throughout the day in these little chunks it doesn’t take anything away from your work, but at the end of the day you’re done. It’s the perfect situation for me.


Dan Pardi:


I could not agree more. I think this one of the most important lifestyle hacks if you will to adopt into our lives. Like you said, if you’re trying to create time the likelihood like you’re going to be able to do that consistently in our schedules that are completely packed with family obligations and extended work times. If you can work it into your life it’s much more likely that you’re going to maintain a pattern over time. That doesn’t mean that you can’t try to do things before, during, and after work. If you can get it during the work day it really is ideal. Plus you have the added benefit of enhancing your mental performance by being in a more energetic, better blood flow state. Cognitive benefits of chronic regular exercise and the cognitive benefits of acute physical on mental performance, both help you perform better day to day.


Travis Saunders:






Yeah and I think it makes so much … It’s the same reason why I’ve always been a huge proponent of active transportation. It’s the same thing. None of us have time to exercise, but if you can get it in throughout your day your so much more likely to do it. I think that’s the next big step. To try to engineer environments that make it easier for people to be active. There are always going to weirdos like us that do a set of body weight squats in our office, but that’s never going to work for my mom. I think if you have a small exercise area in every building which I know still seems probably crazy so you can pop in and do a quick set in your work clothes and then go about your day. If we had that option I think it would be a lot easier for people that aren’t really going to go out of their way to be active on their own.


Dan Pardi: That’s an important point. Not every work environment is permissive of you mixing in physical activity into your work day. If you’re wearing a suite. If it’s more of a formal culture. However, you see this in start-ups around the bay area, and of course across the world now as less traditional work times are being maintained. People come in late and they stay late. At least around here, some organizations are really good. Their employees come and they leave to work out or they actually have a gym on site. They have some sort of stretching and work out area. They take breaks. They do something physically active while they’re working.





I know what you mean. I think if you’re listening and you feel like that’s just not practical for me it’s not the only solution. It’s still good to get activity in when you can, on the weekends, before or after work. A number of us are seeing that, but it’s also liberating to then break down that structure if you can and say, “Okay, I can mix exercise into my life.” It is significant by doing 10 body weight squats multiple times a day. I don’t have to actually reserve 45 minutes for a complete work out in order for this to be meaningful.


Travis Saunders:











No, I think that’s one of the biggest tragedies of health promotion with respect to physical activity. It’s mostly people that within this field that like working out and are comfortable working out. We’ve promoted this idea of working out that matches our interest which is going to the gym and working out for a half hour or hour. Which only suite likes 10 or 15% of the population. There’s an obesity physician here in Canada named Yoni Freedhoff. His slogan about physical activity is as much as you can, as hard as you can, everything counts. When he says everything counts, one set counts, walking for 3 minutes that counts. Don’t worry about how you get it in, how long it takes, just get in these little bits of activity where ever you can. Start there and build up. If you can go to the gym, great. If you can’t do whatever you can, get in 10 minutes after work or after supper. Whatever you can get it’s better than nothing.


Dan Pardi: Another aspect of in-tune training that I want to mention is, not only is it a break down to integrative and opportunistic, but the other thing that I like about it is being in-tune with your body. A lot of physical activity culture is asking you to push as hard as you can all the time. I think that could be punitive. If you’re thinking, “God you know I have to kill myself right now in order for this to count.” Actually, just think about how you feel. If you’re feeling pretty low energy you can actually increase your own energy by getting some more physical activity into your day. Make it light. Go for a walk. Get some sunshine. Being in tune with your body, giving it what it wants. Going hard when you feel good, a walk when you’re not necessarily the most energy. I think you develop a relationship with physical activity that it always feels good. That means you want to do it more and you like it more.


Travis Saunders:





That’s something we talk about a lot in class with my students. When we’re talking about personal training is that we’ve got this model of you’ve got to go hard. If you want to go hard that’s great. High-intensity interval training, or cross fit, any of that stuff it is good for you if you do it properly. Again, I come back to my parents who are recreationally active. They go for a 5k walk every morning. That’s super good for them. If they did a little more intensity, yes it would be slightly better, but that 3 miles they’re walking everyday is so good for them. It would be a shame if they thought well that doesn’t count because they’re not breaking a sweat. I think it’s a shame that people, again we’ve heard this idea of exercise at the expense of pleasant physical activity. If people just did a nice light easy walk it would have huge public health implications, but we’ve drilled into people that doesn’t count as exercise so they think what’s the point.


Dan Pardi: I do track my steps. Do you? Is that something that you monitor?


Travis Saunders: I go off and on. I find it’s really useful if you’re trying to reach your goal. I find if you’re just curious about how many steps you take on a daily basis, once you know how many steps you take I sort of got bored with tracking it personally. I certainly don’t poo poo it. I think it’s very valuable. I just kind of, once I knew 14,000 steps a day, I didn’t feel the need to keep tracking it everyday.


Dan Pardi:


Particularly if you have like a very predictable route that you’re doing every day. What I found is I’ve actually shifted the way that I look at these trackers. They’re not just telling me what I’ve done, but I actually think of them as performance enhancing devices. The fact that you’re looking at your steps regularly throughout the day, helps you actually engage with the idea of pacing, pacing on a call. There’s a lot of ways to earn steps. That can effect and change how you live. The way that I would structure my work day, I would wake up, I would walk to a café and work. Then I’d walk to the library and work. I’d actually work walks into my day. Now that I have a standing desk I struggle actually to get my 10,000 steps as much, but I stand all day. I’m now struggling with what’s actually better? Getting my 10,000 steps and sitting more or standing more and not quite getting my 10,000 steps.


Travis Saunders:







Right. That’s one of those things that the research hasn’t quite caught up. We’re starting to look at that, different combination of lots of sitting, lots of activity, a little bit of sitting, lots of activity, little bit of each, all these different combinations. I think it’s clear that reducing your sitting, getting lots of activity is the best place to be. We don’t know about those intermediate combinations though like a little bit activity, but a little bit less sitting. I don’t think anyone really knows what’s better or worse there.


Dan Pardi: Yeah. Tell us about the Sedentary Behavior Research Network. This is how I met you. I’m a part of that network. I’m interested in the work your doing, but could you tell us more about it?


Travis Saunders:














It’s really just a lose network. Anyone who’s interested can just go to You can spell behavior the international way or the American way and it will take you there. Really all it was, it was myself, my PhD supervisor Mark Tromblay and a group of other people that just kind of realized there was no group focusing on sedentary behavior specifically. It was a problem because in the past we’ve used the term sedentary behavior to refer to people who aren’t getting enough physical activity. I do some sort of exercise intervention study and I’d get a whole bunch of people who don’t exercise very much and I get them to enroll in my study. Then in my paper I’d say these people are sedentary because they don’t exercise enough. That was back in the day when we thought all that mattered was getting your exercise. If you didn’t get your exercise, nothing else mattered. So if you didn’t get your exercise you were sedentary. Now, we realize that they’re separate constructs. You can have lots of exercise, but still sit a lot or very little sitting but not much exercise or all these different combinations.


We needed to clarify the words. Now, sedentary behavior refers to specifically to sitting and we use the term inactive to refer to someone who’s not active enough. This is, I know, it seems a bit of a detour, but basically it got really confusing when we began to do research in this area of sedentary behavior and papers started to come out because half the people were using sedentary the way I use it to refer to sitting and half the people were using it to refer to just the lack of exercise. So if you saw a paper on sedentary people or sedentary behavior, you didn’t know what it was about. The sedentary behavior research network really kind of came about because we got together and said, look these definitions, we need to figure out what we mean when we say sedentary behavior. Let’s all get a group of people together, come up with a definition of sedentary behavior, maybe start talking about sedentary behavior research projects and start thinking about this field of sedentary behavior as a unique construct.





It was kind of getting lost a little bit within these larger organizations that already focus on exercise other types of physical activity. That’s how it was created. It’s a very lose organization. It’s basically just a website that we maintain. Anyone can sign up for free. There’s a list where people can send questions or idea to. At last count I think we have a little over a thousand members now. From North America to South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, so it’s become quite a useful tool for creating consensus within the field, discussing different idea. It’s been a really useful tool as far as I’m concerned.


Dan Pardi: When operation definitions are not defined it leads to on going long term confusion in the field. Good for you for organizing this group, determining the nomenclature, what does this mean, what does this mean. I guess as simple as it sounds it can lead to, like you said, huge amounts of confusion going forward. Then you don’t know what you’re looking at.


Travis Saunders: Yeah. I realized it’s very much inside baseball. Very, boring to think about. For the few people that really interested in sedentary behavior research, I think it’s been a very positive thing. We’re pretty happy with how it’s developed.


Dan Pardi: You also blog at PLoS One right?



Travis Saunders:


Yeah, so Journal Publisher, Public Library of Science, or PLoS, they publish PLoS One and also PLoS Medicine and a few others. They set up a blogging network in I think 2010. We blog in a few different places. We had our own blog and then we moved to science blogs and then we were invited to join PLoS. We’ve been there since they sort of started. Yeah. We talk about sort of obesity research, physical activity research and sedentary behavior research there.We had our own blog and then we moved to science blogs and then we were invited to join PLoS. We’ve been there since they sort of started. Yeah. We talk about sort of obesity research, physical activity research and sedentary behavior research there.


Dan Pardi: Great I’ll put a link to it in the show notes so people could check you out. Well, thank you, Travis this has been really insightful and it’s such an important subject as standing and sitting. These are things people don’t post on social media when they do it. You post if you did like a Tough Mudder, when you finish a Crossfit workout, when you do something where you really bust your butt. This is so, important. I call it the mundane, but meaningful. It’s standing, walking, going to bed on time. All this stuff that is not super exciting, but matters so much.


Travis Saunders: Yeah, oh absolutely.


Dan Pardi: Thank you for joining us today and helping us understand this subject that is important better and we appreciate your time. Thanks for coming on.



Travis Saunders:


Hey no worries. Thanks for having me.


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