Humans are wired for stories. As science explores what draws us into a good one, marketing guru Donald Miller, creator of the renowned StoryBrand workshop, says a story’s structure is part of the magic. When we hear a story complete with beginning, middle and end, we experience a reward response in our brains. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s easy to see why: stories help us organize information, make decisions and pass on knowledge to others. In every story, there is what Miller calls an inciting incident: the part where the conflict gets going. In real life, health often acts as an inciting incident in the stories of our lives:

  • a major knee injury
  • losing strength and flexibility as we age
  • discovering food or environmental allergies
  • a diagnosis of pre-diabetes or high blood pressure
  • becoming pregnant, or struggling with infertility
  • wanting to try an obstacle course race, but worrying about the strength and stamina required.

Luckily for us, there is no shortage of health solutions out there. And, just like in our favorite stories, these solutions help us organize information into heroes and villains.

Heroes Villains
Coconut oil! Is there nothing it can’t cure? Sitting is the new smoking.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Skipping breakfast is your worst fitness mistake.
Cardio training is the best for weightloss. Cardio training is a waste of time.


Presented in this way, we have what feels like a very clear choice: do the hero behaviors, and avoid the villain behaviors. But what happens when, as in the case of cardio training above, the hero and villain are the same thing? Which one is true? How do we tell? Often, stories about health and fitness don’t tell the whole, um, story.

Myth or Magic?

The truth is that, like most things, health choices aren’t binary. If you ask people, “Do you like bananas?” you will get a whole spectrum of banana-related feelings in response. Healthy choices work the same way — each individual will respond differently. So how do we find our best approach?

Factors that influence our health include our environment, habits, the food we eat, our social circles, physical activity (or lack thereof) and emotions. When these factors have a positive effect on health, we call them health promoters. When their effect is negative, we call them health disruptors. Breathing clean air is an obvious candidate in the promoter category. Walking into traffic is an equally clear health disruptor. But what about something like high-intensity interval training (HIIT)? Often touted as the only and best method for weightloss, this style of training has been shown to promote good health. On the other hand, daily interval training for some individuals could trigger too much stress on the body, leading to fatigue, high cortisol levels and overuse injuries. In this case, the amount is the key. To make sure a HIIT program helps instead of hurts, most experts recommend 48 hours between HIIT sessions.

To Sit or Not to Sit – Is That the Question?

What if we apply the concepts of a choice spectrum and promoters/disruptors to the supervillain du jour, sitting? Sitting all the time is a main disruptor of health. At the opposite end of the spectrum is standing all the time (which was hilariously chronicled for one month by Dan Kois). Standing can be just as disruptive as sitting. Just ask the line workers, cashiers and customer service agents who stand all day, every day. Standing without moving is hard on our hearts, leading to poor circulation and edema. The real issue is not sitting or standing per se, but the long hours in one position. We’re simply getting too little moving. And don’t think a walking desk is a quick solution — research shows that treadmill desks increase headaches due to conflicting input from the legs and eyes! In fact, regular moving around during the day is powerful stuff. It:

  • can delay onset of age-related diseases such as heart disease and COPD
  • helps maintain healthy body weight by using energy throughout the day promotes mental health by regulating various catecholamines
  • releases endorphins that balance the hormone cortisol, reducing stress and inflammation
  • boosts circulation and increases lung capacity.

To promote good health and to stay productive at work, we need the right dosage of sitting, standing and moving coupled with proper breathing and a productive and positive mindset. Try sitting to do creative or focused tasks, standing while on the phone or email and walking to the farthest water cooler or washroom for mini-breaks. You’ll find the truth of the sitting vs. standing story lies somewhere in between.