One Man Takes A Stand — For Weeks Straight — Just To See How It Feels
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Several recent studies claim it's much better for our health if we get on our feet and stand more. One study suggests sitting more than 11 hours a day can take a few years off your life. That's one of the reports that got the attention of Dan Kois, so he stood up. For 30 days straight. He kept a diary of his vertical month, and has written about the experience in New York Magazine. Dan joins me now in the studio. Dan, we have raised the microphones. We've pushed back the chairs. We're standing for this interview. Thanks for coming in.
DAN KOIS: My pleasure. It's so easy to stand now that I don't have to stand all the time.
BLOCK: Now you're used to it. Well, was this a stunt, or was there something that you really hoped to learn from this experience?
KOIS: Well, let's say it was both.
KOIS: Obviously it's a stunt. No normal person would want to stand for 18 hours a day for 30 days. But there was something I was trying to get at, which is that I lead a really sedentary life. Like many people I know, I wake up in the morning, I drive in my car to work. I sit at my desk all day...
BLOCK: Sounds very familiar (laughing).
KOIS: I'm sure it does, yes, to many people. And, you know, I kept reading study after study saying that all those miles I was putting on my butt were really, like, hurting me.
BLOCK: And so began the month of standing up. And let's talk about the ground rules. You sat to drive...
KOIS: I sat to drive.
BLOCK: ...To tie your shoes because you discovered that was physically impossible.
KOIS: Right. Well, on the first day I did fall over trying to tie my shoes, like some sort of Benny Hill routine.
BLOCK: (Laughing) You sat down when nature called, as you say in the piece, and when you went to sleep, you did not strap yourself to wall. You...
KOIS: That's correct. I was allowed to be horizontal when I went to bed at night.
BLOCK: Did you find yourself, though, pushing the boundaries a little bit. If you were standing, maybe leaning against the wall, propping yourself up? Or were you...
KOIS: Oh, sure. Well, I mean, part of, as I learned very quickly, part of the trick to being able to pull off something like this, is to be able to shift your body into as many possible positions as you can. So I did a lot of leaning. I did a lot of raising one foot up. You know, I assumed what I refer to in the piece as, sort of, all the different positions that you see terrible band members do in publicity photos, where one guy's leaning up against the wall with his arms folded. Another guy's sort of in a crouch. Another guy's got his leg up against the wall looking tough, like, I did all that stuff because the key to anyone who is standing as part of the regular routine, is to stay in motion. It's not the standing that's good for you, it's the motion that's good for you.
BLOCK: Well, and Dan, one of the things you discovered is that standing for long stretches of time is hard. It's physically painful. You had a lot of pain in your legs and your feet.
KOIS: Right. Well, this will not be a surprise to, you know, one of the millions and millions of people in America who have jobs that require them to stand up all the time, people in service industries. But yes, standing for a really long time with no opportunity for a break is murder on your heels, on your calves, on your lower back, if you're particularly unlucky on your hips. Like, I never really think about my hips that much but my hips hurt, like, quite a bit, almost all the time.
BLOCK: You did find yourself in some awkward situations when you were standing. I'm looking at a photograph in New York Magazine of you trying to read your young daughters a bedtime story. They're lying in bed, you're standing tall above them and they cannot read the book.
KOIS: Yeah, yeah. I really felt like an Edwardian schoolmaster in those moments, like, trying to teach a valuable lesson to my children. In fact, I was just trying to create some intimacy between us because one of the revelations of this month is how much your body posture affects your relationships with the other people that you're dealing with.
BLOCK: Well, in the end, after a month of standing, what did you conclude? I mean, how did your body end up after this month?
KOIS: I learned a lot of things about my body. I learned that I am in deep trouble when I eventually get older and start suffering the chronic pain that goes along with age because I did not deal with it well at all. I was very grumpy. Like my wife would do unbelievably nice things like rub my feet at the end of the day and I would just still spend the whole time whining like a jerk. Like, oh, it's so hard, why am I doing this? But part of the lesson of this is that I wanted a more active lifestyle now because I wanted to do my best to avoid that kind of chronic pain when I am older.
BLOCK: So at the end of your month, when you could sit down again, did it feel wonderful?
KOIS: Oh, my God, it was amazing.
BLOCK: Or did you start getting stressed out? I mean...
KOIS: Are you kidding? It was so great. I mean, the first day was really great. I really did just sit down and like phoned into every conference call. I wouldn't even walk down to the conference room.
KOIS: I was just like, can someone bring me lunch? But after that, yes, I have found that that month of standing has really made it easy on a day-to-day basis for me to conceive of, and then enact, the simple process of standing up, for say, 10 minutes an hour, which seems, from most of the scientists that I talked to, to be a happy medium.
BLOCK: Well, Dan, thanks so much for coming in and standing for this interview with me. Appreciate it.
KOIS: Oh, my pleasure. How do your feet feel? Are they good?
BLOCK: They're feeling the burn.
KOIS: Yeah, they should.
BLOCK: But I'm in heels.
KOIS: (Laughs) Yes. Well, that's - thank goodness I didn't have to wear those.
BLOCK: Dan Kois is senior editor at Slate. His New York Magazine piece is "Sitting Is Bad For You, So I stopped For A Whole Month. My Calves Weren't Happy, Neither Were My Kids.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GET UP, STAND UP")
THE WAILERS: (Singing) So you better get up, stand up. Stand up for your right. Get up, stand up, don't give up the fight.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.