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Photo: yagisu/Flickr
Photo: yagisu/Flickr

Stand Up, Sit Down, Read This, Repeat: The Health Benefits of Standing

Feb 5, 2019

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By Dennis Von Elgg

In 1998, at the age of 77,  US Senator John Glenn flew into space, the oldest astronaut to do so. This was Glenn’s second mission, a journey that took him two years of lobbying NASA to be allowed on the mission.

Glenn’s inclusion was important and unique. His participation allowed NASA and the National Institute on Aging to conduct studies on how space travel would affect a geriatric guinea pig.

Physiologists knew the physiological impact of zero gravity accelerated the aging process. Footage of astronauts returning from lengthy missions clearly illustrated this fact. Loss of bone and muscle density are two primary points of interest. Sleep disruptions and physical balance were another two. Add in varicose veins, leg and face edema and increased blood pressure to the brain and you get clear picture of the impact.

For those of us intending on advancing into our golden years, or those of us already there, we will/do face these health issues. Decreased bone density combined with compromised balance brings risks of falls which commonly lead to hip fractures and increased mortality rates. Disrupted sleep leads to cognitive decline and brain fog, along with many other health risks like lowered immunity.

Glenn prepares for space flight in 1998. Photo: NASA 

What has been learned through much of NASA’s Life Science Division are the effects of gravity on our bodies. Space travel eliminates gravity, and bodies suffer the consequences.

But this situation isn’t limited to astronauts and their extreme circumstances. Sitting mimics the conditions of space travel. Rather than an absence of gravity, sitting succumbs to gravity leading to very similar results.

Our bodies are challenged by gravity, and it responds to us working against it. By simply sitting upright rather than slouching we are lifting our 8-pound head towards the sky. This simple shift triggers a release of serotonin. Of the 40 million brain cells most are heavily influenced by serotonin, which lifts moods, sexual desires and functions, memory and learning, temperature regulation and sleep regulation.

Stand up and you get a bigger surge. Go for a walk, and you are a serotonin factory. Add in endorphins, also triggered by the movement, and moods elevate, and the brain surges toward happier places.

This simple activity, lifting the head, standing up, and walking, has so many benefits that it’s impossible to see the downside for all but the very few.

You are designed to move. Nothing in your engineering is meant to sit. You’ve been granted a machine made up of over 4,000 tendons and ligaments, 22 major arteries, literally miles of blood vessels, 206 bones, 360 joints and 640 muscles. All within an elastic wrapping designed for fluid movement. Nothing in that suggests it’s a good idea to binge watch Netflix.

In fact to the contrary.

If you are sitting while reading this, go ahead and stand, just for a moment. Go ahead.

Great. That simple act elevated your endorphins, serotonin, and your LPL (lipoprotein lipase), one of the the great janitors of your blood vessels. LPL consumes fats from your circulatory system. It is voracious and immediate. However, its presence is pretty short lived in that if you sit down it is pretty much gone within 12 minutes. Stand up again, and you buy another 12 minutes.

Glenn poses for a portrait. Photo: NASA

As heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the US, this is significant. One could postulate that it isn’t heart disease but the sedentary lifestyle. Add in cardiovascular accidents (strokes) and the message is even clearer.

We need to stand, walk, run, skip rope, go bowling, hike a trail, or simply futz around the yard.

Doctor Joan Vernikos, the former director of NASA’s Life Science Division, and the person who gave the final thumb’s up to Senator Glenn’s participation in mission STS-95, said it clearly, “Standing is more effective than walking. Not how long you stand up, but how many times you stand up. Our bodies needs perpetual motion … The key to lifelong health … to rediscover a lifestyle of constant, natural, low-intensity, non-exercise movement that uses the gravity vector throughout the day.”

Every 12 minutes. Throw in a couple dozen squats while you’re at it.


Dennis von Elgg is the owner/practitioner at The Redwood Needle Acupuncture Clinic in Occidental. He is also a professor at AIMC in Berkeley, lectures at UC Berkeley, and several other locations speaking on integrative approaches to improving vitality. 

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