The latest evidence indicates that if you spend too long sitting down you are significantly increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes, some cancers and, of course, being overweight. Surprisingly you can’t compensate for long periods of sitting around your work areas by exercising hard after your working day ends. There seems to be something that happens to our bodies when we are sedentary for extended periods of time that have an adverse effect on our health.
The Bad News
The evidence linking extended periods of inactivity to premature death is pretty compelling – so much so that the UK government has issued health guidelines on sitting for different age groups and health professionals have started to talk about ‘sitting disease’. One leading researcher in the area believes that sitting for 5 hours without moving has the same associated health risks as smoking an entire packet of cigarettes. For those of us whose work is concentrated around a computer, this is bad news.
Our work areas make it very hard to move or exercise during our working day, and it just isn’t practical to nip to the gym or go for a run several times during a working day, particularly if you are office rather than home-based. It’s even harder for people who have to spend all day behind the wheel to find opportunities for physical activity. However as an entrepreneur who works for oneself, it is possible to take simple and low cost actions that will greatly reduce your and your team’s health risks. Long term this makes great sense both from a performance management and overall morale point of view.
The Good News
The good news is that relatively short periods of activity can substantially reduce these health risks. All you need to do is break up long periods of sitting with a couple of minute’s action. Of course, we all know that we should be taking regular breaks from our computers to rest our eyes, wrists and elbows. This latest research means that rather than just swivel round and talk to a colleague or look out of the window we need to be getting up out of our seats, moving away from our work areas and doing something active.
The evidence indicates that standing still is much better for you than sitting still. The physical effort needed to keep you balanced and upright is enough to stop the negative sedentary effects kicking in. So eating your lunch or holding a meeting standing rather than sitting are effective countermeasures.
- If there is an opportunity to stand rather than sit (like on a bus or train) take it.
- If you have to read a report; stand up to do it.
- Standing is completely free and does not need much space, so there is no excuse.
- Another low-cost improvement is to make headsets available so you and your team can walk around while you make calls.
Of course standing up all day has its associated health risks and can be very uncomfortable for people unaccustomed to it. The aim is not for you to be standing all day but to use every opportunity to be productive away from your chair. Hence the recent surge in interest in ‘sit stand desk’. These can either be desks that are designed for a regular person or ones that can be adjusted for either a standing or sitting position. Apparently only 1% of UK office workers have access to a standing desk. Think it’s silly and not really practical to have a standing desk in offices? Think again. In Scandinavia, 90% of all office workers have access to this desk configuration. This goes to show that: It is entirely possible to change the way we work. We just need to be prepared to make some small changes to the design of our work areas and get up of our behinds.