“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.” According to Dr James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic in Arizona.
We should all be standing up, for the sake of our state of mind (as blood flows more freely around the body and to the brain when we are moving), our metabolism (we burn 0.7 calories per minute more, have less circulating fat levels and retain a better control over our blood glucose levels), and because our skeletal frame dissipates forces better when standing (sitting exerts 140% of pressure in our 3rd lumbar disc comparative to standing, Norris 1998).
According to Gavin Bradley, Director and Founder of Active Working “British people sit on average for 8.9 hours each day and 70% of sitting time is at work.” Above 7 hrs per day, there is a 5% increase in premature mortality with every hour spent sitting (Buckley et al 2015)
“Let those who sit know that this world is not a waiting room; it is an arena to struggle, an arena for action! Let the inactive remember that we were born to act, not to sit!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan
I suspect that some of us feel that this is just another marketing ploy to sell us new office furniture or perhaps a further example of the nanny state poking its nose through our office door to control this space a little tighter too. I too have been caught rolling my eyes at the thought of treadmill desks wondering who got what bonus thinking that one up. And then I read around the subject, regained control of my eyes and realised that actually, in today’s world, coupled to the daily choices we make ‘they’ might be onto something.
In Scandinavia, 90% of office workers have the choice of using sit-stand desks compared to less than 1% in the UK.
Studies have repeatedly shown that the effects of long-term sitting are NOT reversible through exercise or other good habits. “Even when adults meet physical activity guidelines, sitting for prolonged periods can compromise metabolic health” Owen et al 2008. “Sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little. They do completely different things to the body.” Microbiologist, Dr. Marc Hamilton.
I believe in taking personal responsibility for your health. There is enough information out there to understand the pros, cons and potential wool that may be being pulled over our eyes. After a relatively tough and challenging look at myself over the past few decades, I also realise that we pay attention most acutely to the information that supports the beliefs that we hold most dear (a glass of wine a day, everything in moderation as my most favourite examples).
I just think we have an opportunity here. We have 24 hours in any day. We are trying to cram ever more value, interest and achievement into this small pocket of time. Assuming we cannot yet significantly warp time to our desires (although according to the recent documentary about gravity I am hopeful that I shall hone this skill and our environment to that effect, but that had better be the subject for another blog), most of us have a structure to our day that involves extended periods of time contained within an office with only our minds bouncing off the walls. Our time outside of this environment is usually over-full of the stuff we want to define ourselves and our time on this planet by. We, therefore, should look to this office time as being the most malleable. It is here we can make the biggest difference to our posture, skeleton, energy levels, metabolism and mindset.
It appears to take only 4 hours for the body to go into a metabolic ‘sleep’ when the genes regulating the amount of glucose and fat in the body start to shut down. From an energy expenditure perspective, your body operates closer to its basal metabolic rate after sitting for this period of time.
I guess essentially chairs were first invented way back in caveman times when someone took a rock and sat on it. They probably just spent a limited amount of time on this rock. The ancient Egyptians are believed to be the first to invent a four-legged seat with a back with earliest examples found in tombs dating as far back as 2680 B.C but I am unsure how long they reclined on these. It was apparently not until the 16th century that chairs became common and our metabolism when into a steep decline.
In a classic study of human posture around the world in the 1950s, the anthropologist Gordon W. Hewes identified no fewer than one hundred common sitting positions. “At least a fourth of mankind habitually takes the load off its feet by crouching in a deep squat, both at rest and at work,” he observed. Deep squatting is favoured by people in Southeast Asia, Africa, and Latin America, but sitting cross-legged on the floor is almost as common. Many South Asians cook, dine, work, and relax in that position. Sedentary kneeling, that is, sitting on the heels with the knees on the floor, is practised by Japanese, Koreans, and Eurasians, and also used by Muslims at prayer. There is, of course, nothing stopping us from adopting these postures to complement our seated and standing postures.
The couch was invented by Jay Wellingdon Couch in 1895, although the sofa seems to have been invented earlier. The earliest image of a sofa can be seen on the engraving ‘Woman of Quality on a Canape’ in 1686. Contrary to my expectation, and rather disappointingly, this woman is not sitting on a mushroom vol-au-vent.
Whether you choose to complete 250 steps in every hour, do 1 minute of activity in every 60 minutes, visit the toilet on the floor above or below your office, sit on your posture chair or stability ball for 10 minutes in every hour, use a standing desk for up to 4 hours in every day, take part in walking meetings or invest in treadmill desk, the point is we need to make a change. For the brain and nervous system to stay positively engaged, we need to make frequent changes. Sitting on a stability ball for 8 hours a day probably means that we perfect the art of subtly changing our position to achieve its most (slouched) comfortable position.
Whether you are prompted into action through a screen prompt, sticky note, vibration, office buddy or any other app-based or wearable technology nudge, it is all good. Our metabolism is suffocating through lack of oxygen and inactivity. It is working far from its optimal capacity. We suspect our metabolism was built to sustain an average of around 10 miles walking per day. The current (controversial) target of walking of 10,000 steps per day would cover approximately 5 miles per day. The maths is inescapable.
“When bored of sitting, move! When bored of moving, sit! Balance your life or there will remain neither moving nor sitting in your life but only falling!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan