Sitting is the new smoking

Not all of us are fortunate enough to work on our feet and the myriad of health issues that come with sitting in an office chair aren’t limited to your company handbook. With the MOVE 1 ‘sitting is the new smoking’ campaign in full swing across London’s transport system, the focus is firmly fixed on a very old but freshly apparent health problem facing UK office workers.

Sitting is being called ‘the new smoking’ because apparently, it’s just as bad and we do far too much of it. In his TED talk, Inventor Pack Matthews, says we are ‘floating along in the benign realm of sitting, but in truth, paying a high price for our sedentary lifestyle.’ Sitting for a long time is bad for you, mainly because as humans we have evolved to stand and walk around. Years of foraging and hunting since the primate years have left the human structure in a shape that should not spend lengthy amounts of time on its posterior.  After all, the office is an extremely new environment with respect to the history of the human race and episodes of prolonged sitting were, until recently, reserved for the likes of grape munching Roman oligarchs. Admittedly the demands of most office based work require a person to be static and seated comfortably, but what if that comfort is the thing doing the most damage?

Aside from the general issue of weight plaguing the immobile office worker, sitting has just as detrimental an effect on those with desirable BMIs. Research suggests that those who have jobs that involve them standing more often are 27% less likely to develop heart disease than those sat down. The seated are at two thirds higher risk of heart attack and the suggestion is that prolonged sitting can contribute to the development of cancer.  Unfortunately, even that hour in the gym at the end of the day isn’t enough to reverse the effect.  According to researchers there just aren’t enough hours in the day left to make up for the damage we are causing ourselves with 8 hours in the lumbago chair.

So what’s the solution? Well, logically we just need to stand more and it sounds easy until you think about logistics. In a traditional office, fifteen minutes standing is fifteen minutes less work time. How do you ensure the best health conditions for yourself whilst maximising output?  After all, the solution requires a worker to change their physical location regularly throughout the day. Numerous companies have developed a motorised solution that allows the user to raise their desk mechanically, providing a standing workspace. Other researchers are suggesting taking a stroll for a meeting instead of sitting around a table. With digital eyewear and VR technology on the rise this could be a viable option (imagine your powerpoint projection on the lens of everybody’s glasses as you take a meander round the local park.)

Other, easy methods which can alleviate the negative health implications of sitting could be making the most of the time around work. Standing on the tube or parking further from work and walking in are easy ways to make a small difference. It is also wise to take your lunch break to go for a walk, do some exercise or sport and get some fresh air, a welcome break in the middle of the working day for your body. Health experts also advise you leave your desk once an hour, so why not go for a two minute break to go to the loo, get a cup of tea or walk around the building or the block whilst you plan your workload or have some thinking time. This will get your blood flowing and although it is only a few minutes at a time it’ll will make a difference to your health, to your eyes (away from the computer), your mood and your productivity. If you want to go a step further, lately there’s been a trend of treadmill and exercise bike desks, but if that’s too distracting, why not dig out your unused gym ball and use it as a seat at work to add a bit of a workout to your sitting?

With motorised desks and height adjustable office accessories future workrooms could look a little like a slow version of musical chairs and yet, they could be the key to that much coveted longevity. The reasons to stand are stacking up, would you take the weight on your feet for a longer, healthier life?

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Julie Tucker

Very timely article! Just today I have brought in a yoga ball to sit on at my desk (much to the amusement of my colleagues) on the advice of my physiotherapist. I have a bulging disc which is aggravated by poor posture. If you don’t sit correctly on a yoga ball you quite simply fall off. I can feel my core muscles at work while I work, its a win win situation 🙂

Joseph Lofthouse

Thank you Julie! It’s a pleasure to hear from you. I’m glad you are paying heed to your physio. My parents are both physiotherapists so i understand how bossy they can be… Great work with the yoga ball, let us know how it works out for you!
Joseph

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