Stand up for a longer life

For most of the past 10 years I’ve been sitting down.

Like many people who work in offices, my days have been mostly spent seated at my desk or in meetings; in the car; or at home. Although I’ve always exercised, the majority of my time overall has been spent in a pretty sedentary state.

That has changed recently for me and many of the team here at Healthy Food Guide. About six months ago we switched to adjustable desks which allow us to work either standing or sitting. These desks have become popular in many workplaces, with people taking them up as more and more research emerges around the harms of spending long periods sitting down. The evidence has been pretty damning, with studies showing that even people who do regular exercise don’t really reduce their risk of a range of negative health outcomes, if they still spend most of their time sitting. Sitting has even been called ‘the new smoking’.

The most recent research on this topic comes from the University of Sydney. It has established that swapping even an hour of daily sitting with standing is linked to a five per cent reduction in the risk of premature death. It also works the other way around: replace exercise like walking with sitting down and the risk of premature death goes up by between 13 and 17 per cent.

I must say it took a bit of adjusting to working while standing. In the beginning, even though I’m fit, I found standing all day too tiring, and would find myself sitting down after a few hours. But gradually I’ve become standing-desk fit, and now it’s quite common for me to keep the desk in standing mode all day. I do have breaks – sitting in meetings and while having lunch, for example – and that seems to fit in with the best advice from experts, which is that varying our activity throughout the day is best. Some unexpected benefits have been less lower-back stiffness, which I often found I had after a day of sitting. And it may be a coincidence but I have lost a little weight, which I wasn’t trying to do at all, but makes sense if you think that standing does engage more of your muscles than sitting, and encourages more incidental movement as well.

I’ve heard experts in this area talk about how allowing sedentary workers to choose to spend time standing is not just the next step in workplace wellness, but is in fact an issue of occupational health and safety; that within in a few years it will be typical for employers to offer this as a basic part of looking after their employees. That sounds like great progress to me. Who knows, by then I might have upgraded to one of the treadmill desks I’ve seen, so I can get my 10,000 steps in at my desk as well!

First published: Oct 2015

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