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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: March 2023 | Transition

Stand Up for Yourself

Douglas Denton Church


  • It's important to maintain an active and independent lifestyle, both physically and mentally, as we age.
  • A sedentary lifestyle leads to many negative health effects.
  • Simple tips for staying active as you age that require minimal effort.
  • Age and competency are different issues, so if you are still capable of running your affairs, ensure your loved ones know that and if there are concerns then get a doctor involved.
Stand Up for Yourself Barraud

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Side A.  I’m not sure if the “getting older” excuse is really accurate when it comes to standing and walking for the provable benefits that come with being erect and moving, but it is obvious to me looking around at my friends of a “certain age” that we have an inclination to incline! Easy chairs, loungers, recliners, foot stools, and more of the apparatus designed to get your body horizontal instead of vertical abound! It doesn’t take much to get one to “take a load off.” Or, “Have a seat and make yourself comfortable.” Or, “Kick back.” Would you believe that the temporary comfort is actually a design for long-term physical problems?

In a Mayo Clinic article authored by Dr. Edward Laskowski, M.D., he opened his piece with the following generalization:

“When you sit, you use less energy than you do when you stand or move. Research has linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns. They include obesity and a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and unhealthy cholesterol levels — that make up metabolic syndrome. Too much sitting overall and prolonged periods of sitting also seem to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.”

Now if that litany of potential ills doesn’t motivate you, I’m not sure what else I can do! But, in the spirit of the Voice of Experience, let me offer some thoughts. 

First of all, I want you to imagine your mother telling you to “Stand up straight!”  I bet you heard that a few times!  Now, I want you to plant that image and those words into your memory banks. For the next week, every time you start to sit down, I want you to say those words out loud and have that image in your mind.  The “treat” for you who follow Pavlov, will be your long-term health benefits yet to be realized! But, if you want to go totally “Pavlovian,” buy a bag of dry roasted edamame or almonds and gobble up a handful to reward yourself, but ONLY if you do NOT sit down!

Now that you have conditioned yourself to be challenged to NOT sit every time you start to do so, (and even if you don’t remain standing every time) let’s see what an alternative universe looks like.

Thanks again to Dr. Laskowski, here are some ideas that provide an alternative to sitting:

  • Take a break from sitting every 30 minutes.
  • Stand while talking on the phone or watching television.
  • If you work at a desk, try a standing desk — or improvise with a high table or counter.
  • Walk with your colleagues for meetings rather than sitting in a conference room.
  • Position your work surface above a treadmill — with a computer screen and keyboard on a stand or a specialized treadmill-ready vertical desk — so that you can be in motion throughout the day.

Those are good ideas, and they require minimal effort on your part. The benefits are incremental and require a long-term commitment on your part to “Stand Up for Yourself!”

There are literally hundreds of devices available to assist you in staying out of the easy chair and some are more likely to have better results than others at a far less significant expense. If you can afford it, try a stand-up writing desk for starters.  They come in all sizes and configurations from hydraulic lifts to stationary desks on rollers.  Or, as suggested by Dr. Laskowski, try to add a treadmill or a balance board. Buy some ankle weights to give some added oomph to the effort. Some people have grown fond of the stability ball which not only gets you out of the chair but adds to core strength in the process. If affordable, get an Apple watch with the beeper that reminds you to stand up! (It also has a feature that lets someone know if you have fallen down!).

In the end, it doesn’t have to be expensive.  It just needs to be a way for you to stand and perform a function.  When I get the order from “The Boss” to slice onions during meal prep time, I don’t sit down to do it and I doubt if you do either. We stand at the kitchen counter and, with knife and cutting board at hand, we slice and dice away. However, I have discovered a chef’s mat that I can stand on which provides some cushioning from the hard floor surface and enables me to stay vertical and comfortable for much longer periods of time.  Be creative.

Here is another approach.  Just as you can be habituated in almost every other aspect of your life, so can you create habits to keep you or get you standing. Smokers, or ex-smokers, will tell you that it was all about habits!  Get a cup of coffee and light a cigarette.  Have a beer and a cigarette.  Answer the phone, light a cigarette.  Keep your bag of treats handy and start some new habits!  If the phone rings, answer it and stand up (and give yourself a treat).  If it’s cocktail time, stand while drinking and the drink IS the treat! I’m sure with a little effort you can identify three to five daily events that you can adopt as “the habituated times to stand.”

Finally, there is nothing like peer pressure to get you to modify your behavior.  Enlist family members or co-workers as co-standers!  Remind each other of the need to avoid sedentary behavior.  Have group sessions where the primary objective is to be standing…while you are talking, drinking, eating, watching TV, etc. The fact that the “team” is pulling together for the mutual health benefits that all will achieve makes the effort worthwhile.  And, for some of us, it is an excuse to get the gang together instead of looking at a screen all the time!

Side B.  Now, just in case when you read the title to this piece you thought it was referring to something else, let me address the B side of this notion!

When your well-intentioned children, sibs, nieces and nephews, or neighbors decide that you are getting too old to manage your own affairs and “volunteer” to assist you with banking, investments, shopping, etc., STAND UP FOR YOURSELF!  As I have repeatedly told my children, the only way you will get the keys to my car is when you pry them out of my COLD, DEAD HANDS! Age and competency are not equivalents.  There may be good reasons for your family to be concerned about the state of your mental health.  Those issues should be addressed with your doctor and not a doctor of someone else’s choosing. If you have a long-term relationship with your physician, this is a conversation you should have early on: “Doctor, will you let me know when you think I have reached a point in my mental or physical status that I need help?”  If you have a doctor, like mine, that is several decades younger than me and thus, more likely to be alive and healthy when I’m getting to that certain point where the question is material, all the better. And remember this: Just because you have achieved a certain age has no bearing on your ability to manage your own business!

I leave it there:  Stand up for yourself! It’s good for you both mentally and physically and may prevent not only the dreaded diseases identified by Dr. Laskowski above but may also leave you in control of your assets and your CAR!