Modern living is killing us - so, isn't it about time we stood up for our health?
Offices are pretty much of a muchness, aren't they? Inside, there are many desks placed in front of many chairs where many workers spend many hours sitting slouched over many keyboards staring at the many screens of many computers. In fact, it is estimated that half of all jobs in western society are computer-based.
Our lifestyles are, on the whole, sedentary. Not only are a large number of us desk-bound - and, therefore, inactive throughout the working day - but we also travel to and from our workplaces on trains, buses or in our cars - sitting - and at home, we eat - sitting - and relax in front of the TV - sitting and so on. Of late, all this inactivity has been linked to increased risks of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and even depression. Basically, it's killing us, with the medical world now dubbing it the 'sitting disease'.
And, by the way, it's not great for our productivity, either. Evidence suggests we all need a break from tasks because the brain begins to lose focus after a long time spent concentrating. This, in turn, can lead to poor performance - and fitness experts maintain that standing while you work can, in fact, improve concentration by increasing blood flow to the brain. Recent medical studies also show that even active people are not immune to these health concerns regarding too much time spent sitting. With scientists claiming 'sitting is the new smoking', then, if smoking is bad for you (even with lots of exercise), sitting for long periods of time must be, too.
Hunters and gatherers
So, just how can we stop sitting all day - a dangerous habit that's light years away from the hunters and gatherers we once were? Fans of workplace wellness have been extoling the virtues of stand up desks for a long time and, what may have been once dismissed by many as a quirky trend, may just become the mainstay of healthy living. Interest in them peaked earlier this month with the release of the UK's first official health guidelines that said office workers should be on their feet for a minimum of two hours a day during working hours.
The guidance, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, warned that UK sedentary behaviour now accounts for 60% of people's waking hours and, for those working in offices, 65-75% of their working hours are spent sitting, of which more than 50% of this is accumulated in prolonged periods of sustained sitting. The guidelines also suggest that workers should use adjustable sit-stand desks, and should go for 'light walks' to alleviate possible musculoskeletal pain and fatigue as part of the adaptive process.
And so, as a result of much media coverage, stand up desks are growing in popularity - the NHS itself is currently running a year-long trial assessing the benefits of height-adjustable desks for clerical staff at three hospitals in Leicestershire. And there is whole selection of stand up desks out there, ranging from freestanding workstations to others that are placed on top of a regular desk or table. Interestingly, many of those using them report feeling more energetic and more productive.
And now, having taken delivery of a sit down/stand up desk at the start of this month, I have already noticed my productivity increasing when I'm on my feet. I'm more creative, more alert and focused and get tasks completed efficiently; I'm even more aware of my posture, too. I am taking my screen breaks regularly and, as I'm up on my feet already, am visiting the water cooler more often, topping up on that all-essential H2O!
The transition from stand up to sit down level is seamless and readily accommodates the recommended goal - breaking up the day to avoid the typical, constant sitting we all do in an office and factoring in more time spent standing, building up to two hours a day and beyond. Strangely, when I did spend a day in another office at a 'normal' desk, I missed standing up so much and felt guilty I was spending so much time in a chair. In these circumstances, choosing to climb the stairs rather than the lift and taking a stroll at lunchtime rather than eating a sandwich hunched over a keyboard are also the healthier options. Old habits are hard to break but, if we are to beat this 'sitting disease', a small investment of time on your feet - or, even, a financial investment in a cutting edge new desk - may just prove to be a valuable long-term health asset.
If standing up to work increases productivity, then proof may lie in those famous historical figures that did exactly that. Standing up to work has historically been favoured by many great minds, and these are rumoured to include:
Leonard Da Vinci