Is sitting the new smoking?

Image courtesy of Startup Stock Photos

How many hours do you think you spend sitting on an average day including eating, commuting, working and relaxing? If you add in an average of 8 hours a night sleep, that for most of us, is a lot of time spent being inactive. With Brits spending an average of 9 hours a day sitting, it’s not surprising that we are now told that sitting is the new smoking. 

Long periods of sitting are claimed to be major contributors to conditions such as obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and even depression. For anyone keen to maintain a healthy body weight, standing for just 30 mins more a day results in an estimated weight loss of 2.4 kg. Unknown to many of us is that the enzymes that help break down fat (Lipoprotein Lipase or LLP) drop by 90% when sitting for prolonged periods.

As a result, public health bodies are encouraging us to make long term changes to our behaviours, encouraging us to be more active and encouraging us to sit less and move more. Get Britain Standing is an active campaign to increase awareness and education of the dangers of sedentary working and prolonged sitting time. What about those of us who already exercise regularly? Surely we don’t need to be concerned. Quite the contrary! Research claims that sitting too much is bad for you even if you get plenty of physical activity.

My Story

For a numer of years my own body was telling me loud and clear that too much sitting didn’t agree with me. I had a long-term on off back problem despite being otherwise fit and active.  I went from one practitioner to another in my desire for, I’ll be honest, – a quick fix!  Scans backed up what the experts believed – I was in good health with no evidence of any real problem.

It was time for me to face the truth: I was quite simply spending too many hours glued to my computer desk for prolonged periods of time.  A few snatched hours during the school day and a few more burning the midnight oil.  A hurried lunchtime run rather than helping was likely exacerbating my situation. This prolonged sitting was playing havoc with my back for the simple reason that my back liked to move. Ergonomic changes such as a saddle stool and correct screen height whilst bringing some relief were not enough.

Like many, I first dipped my toe in by constructing a makeshift standing desk.  A towering pile of books became my pc’s new base.  I clicked away happy that I was helping my back and my overall health. My joy was short-lived however when I soon found myself with neck, shoulder and once again back problems  –  albeit of a different nature.  Rather than correcting my back problems, I had instead replaced one form of musco-skeletal problem with another. I found that this prolonged standing left me leaning on one hip or the other which was just as problematic for my back Lack of support for my wrists was another unanticipated problem. It was clear that more radical action was required.

The Rise of the Standing Desk

Sweden and Denmark are leading the game with 90% of workers having sit stand desks and it being mandatory in Denmark for employers to offer them. Standing desks are not just a recent phenomena. They were popular with the rich and famous in the 19th century and with many famous names in history including Dickens, Hemingway and Churchill. As someone who regularly reminds clients that healthy is wealthy, it was useful to remind myself of this when weighing up whether to invest in a standing desk.  The price was put into perspective almost immediately when my back pain abated, making it worth its weight in gold.

There are different models of standing desks with varying price tags from a basic desk which can be adjusted up and down to more sophisticated models which allow you to go from sitting to standing in an instant whist ensuring the correct ergonomic set-up. After a good deal of research, I chose one from the Vary-desk range (Prior to last night I had been calling it Varidesk until my son pointed out the obvious to me – ‘Isn’t it Vary, rather than Vari Desk, mum!). This adjustable desk sits on top of my own desk. Adding an anti-fatigue mat to stand on made a surprisingly noticeable difference to foot comfort. As with most things in life, I have found a healthy balance of sitting and standing to be key.

With the increase in sitting related illnesses and even the most active of us spending too many hours being inactive, if sitting is the new smoking, let’s make sit-stand the new sitting.

Move more, Sit Less

Here are a few simple ways  you can move more and sit less:

  • Suggest standing or walking meetings (better for creative thinking too!)
  • Take phone calls standing up
  • Park further away and walk a little
  • Make your lunch break a movement break and choose to move

If you would like help in making your desired changes to carve out a happier and healthier professional life, email me today for a free no-obligation telephone chat.