There is literally a new movement in the sedentary office world: people all over the western world are electing to get off their chairs and stand while they work. In fact, some are even walking on treadmills strategically placed under their desks. Why the change? There’s a ton of new research indicating two major factors: we are sitting too much, and this has seriously negative health impacts.
A report compiled by Medibank Private in 2009 revealed that most office workers remain sedentary for about 77% of the day. Looking at our work days more broadly, including the time going to work, having lunch, and commuting home, the figure is approximately 70%. Expand your thoughts to the rest of your day and the situation is just as dire. Even after returning home, some people may exercise for an hour, followed by eating dinner (seated), then perhaps watching television or sitting behind a computer for several hours before retiring to bed. Bottom line is, we are not nearly active enough.
Let’s have a look at the benefits of adding just one hour a day of standing:
- heart rate and energy expenditure are raised
- more calories are burned
- blood circulation and metabolism are increased
- fatigue is actually reduced and energy levels are increased
It seems a no-brainer then that we should stand up for more of our waking time. We all feel more energised and positive when we get out from behind the desk. But why is sitting in a static position causing such issues for our health? Other than the nasties we can immediately feel, such as a sore back, headaches or stiff joints, what’s so bad about sitting?
Excessive sitting negatively impacts on our metabolism and pre-disposes us to serious health issues
In as little as 30 minutes of sitting, negative changes can occur affecting our metabolism. Insulin, blood glucose, and blood pressure levels all increase, predisposing us to long-term health issues such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease – and potentially a lot of minor health problems.
Alarming fact: If you sit for most of the day, your risk of a heart attack is approximately the same as if you were smoking! (juststand.org)
Sounds frightening? Our immediate reactions may be to hit the gym once a day to counteract this nasty problem. Sadly though, no matter how hard you work out at the gym, it’s not going to counteract the detrimental effects of sitting for eight or ten hours a day. (As personal trainers you shouldn’t despair however: working out at the gym, or doing any other form of exercise regularly is still strongly encouraged. We simply need to educate the community that working out on its own is not enough.)
Prolonged sitting has a negative effect on our postural muscles
Numerous studies have revealed that the trend towards sitting for longer is playing havoc with our posture and ability to ward off injury. Prolonged sitting encourages our gluteal muscles (around our buttocks), which are important postural stabilisers, to switch off; while our iliopsoases (inner hip muscles) tighten, creating greater tension on the lower back. Our abdominals also tend to switch off, further decreasing postural support.
We were evolved to stand
We have evolved from quadrupeds to bipeds so that we could walk, run, reach, forage, crouch and sit. We weren’t designed to sit behind an office desk, computer screen or a shop counter all day. Consequently, there has been a steep increase in health issues due to the fact that we are ignoring our body’s natural evolutionary design.
Positive benefits from standing more often
“Standing a little more each day tones muscles, improves posture, increases blood flow, ramps up metabolism and burns extra calories.” – juststand.org
Keeping active may keep you living longer
Dr Emmanuelle Stamatakis, a researcher from University College London, found that in her research cohort of women in the UK, those whose work required standing and walking for most of the time had a 32% lower risk of early death than those in more sedentary jobs. Similar results were reported by a Canadian researcher, Dr Peter Katzmarzyk, in studies focussing on the impact of sitting and television viewing on life expectancy in the USA. The conclusions indicated that reducing sedentary behaviours and increasing activity, even as simple as more time spent standing, has the potential to significantly increase life expectancy.
Intermittent standing increases productivity in the workplace. Many people hip to the new trend are choosing to have a ‘standing work break’ rather than a ‘non-productive work break’ e.g. sitting in another room and having a coffee. By standing, they refresh muscles, increased circulation, energise their minds and bodies and stay more alert.
More calories burned
Yes – there is more good news! You will burn more calories. The exact amount of calories burned will depend on your body size, but there are calories and calculators available to help with this. Roughly speaking, the average person will burn 2.6 kcal per minute seated and 3.3 kcal per minute standing. Go to juststand.org for more information.
How can you build more standing into your work day?
For many that work behind a computer, the option of purchasing a stand-up desk is becoming a popular one. Most stand-up desks are automated so that you can choose between standing and sitting throughout the day. Much like everything else in life, it’s all about balance.
For those who need to sit at work, try the following:
- Take regular mini-breaks every 30 minutes and simply stand up
- Place your files at the other side of the room so you’re forced to walk over to collect them
- Make it a rule to stand up every time you have a phone call
- Where appropriate, stand at group meetings
- Put a jug of water by your desk and drink regularly. This will force you need to visit the bathroom, clocking up more steps in your day
- Invite colleagues for a walking meeting, rather than a seated one
When at home or in leisure time
- try standing up during TV commercials
- walk your kids to school
- walk the dog
- do more of your own cleaning/gardening/car washing
- stand on the bus or train, rather than sitting
- stand at the bar or counter in a cafe, rather than sitting to have a coffee
Sage Institute of Fitness – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.
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