Get up, stand up
Are you sitting comfortably? You might not be for very long. Dr Lucy Hone has joined the stand-up desk movement, and explains why inactivity can be a matter of life or death. hances are, you’re reading this sitting or even lying down. It’s Sunday morning after all; you are forgiven. But, what’s the betting you’ll spend most of next week being heavily sedentary too? Since the 1950s, when British public health professor Jerry Morris noticed London bus drivers had twice the rate of heart attacks than bus conductors – despite both jobs being routinely filled by men from similar social demographics – we’ve known that sitting is bad for health.
In fact, the benefits of standing over sitting have been apparent to some for far longer. Presbyterian minister Orton Jobs was praising its virtue more than 200 years ago. “A sedentary life may be injurious. It must therefore be your resolute care to keep your body as upright as possible when you read and write; never stoop your head nor bend your breast. To prevent this, you should get a standing desk,” he wrote back in 1797.
I am a bit of a laggard when it comes to the standup desk revolution. I tried to move away from the traditional set-up a decade ago by replacing my chair with a Swiss ball. No doubt this would have done wonders for my core strength, only it strayed too close to the fan heater when I was off getting coffee one day and I returned to a shrivelled mess.
The benefits of stand-up desks had permeated my radar for a while before I was ready to take action, however. Yes I’d read the 2012 study published in the Diabetologia journal revealing that the most sedentary individuals have 112 per cent increased risk of diabetes, 147 per cent increased risk of cardiovascular events and 49 per cent increased risk of all-cause mortality, relative to the least sedentary. But it was the news that even fit people are at risk if they’re sedentary that finally made me stand up and take notice. Apparently, sitting for long periods is so damaging to our health that even if I run every morning (around 5 kilometres), walk the dogs twice a day (another 4km) and generally wander around (another 1km), then sitting for long periods sat at my desk still puts me at elevated risk for all those lifestyle diseases we’re so desperate to avoid.
DESIGNED TO MOVE
Typing from my new stand-up desk this week, I can hear the words of Grant Schofield, professor of public health at AUT and an internationally respected authority on physical activity for health, echoing in my head: humans aren’t designed to sit. Movement is a fundamental part of our evolutionary heritage. We evolved to operate in an unstable, outdoor environment, in more or less constant motion. I’ve heard him say it over and over again. While Paleolithic humans walked five to 10 miles in an average day just to find food and water, very little of 21st century living requires us to move, push, pull, hunt or gather. Our average energy expenditure per unit of body mass is now less than 38 per cent of that of our Stone Age ancestors. While our daily environment has changed beyond recognition, you and I still have the exact same genes that benefit from constant motion and suffer from being sedentary.
WHAT ARE THE OPTIONS?
The great thing is that turning your desk into a standing desk isn’t hard to do. Putting a coffee table or big box on top of your regular desk is simple, although it does take up a lot of space and may not be the right height for you. Vitality Works, a company I work with, devised its own solution by taking a bunch of old desks, cutting one down and plonking it on top of the other, customising for each person. Alternatively, buy an electronic height-adjustable desk – which are all-round awesome, but costly.
Avoiding long periods of sitting is good for our health, helps us concentrate better, avoids slumps in energy throughout the day, improves posture and reduces muscle imbalance. However you do it, the message is simple: move more, sit less.