Get up, stand up

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - PERSPECTIVES -

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.

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