Getting out of that chair is one of the best gifts you can give yourself.
Sitting is ‘the new smoking’, say some experts. Research suggests that our sedentary lifestyles today, fuelled by the increased use of technology and most of what we need being just a click away, is taking a rather serious toll on our health. We seem to be sitting down much more and for much longer.
Take a couple of minutes to think about yourself. Add up all the time you spend in a day, sitting – like while you’re eating, traveling, at your desk, on calls or in front of your laptop and the TV. Estimates suggest that on an average, someone who works in an office, spends about 10 hours sitting. That is a lot of time!
So, my message this week is on why you need to spend much more time standing up and what you can do to make that possible.
The World Health Organisation identifies physical inactivity as the ‘fourth leading risk factor for global mortality’. According to their estimates, it results in around 3.2 million deaths globally. This is a real concern. Sitting for long periods can seriously impact metabolism. It has been linked to cardiovascular disease and diabetes, not to mention posture and back-related problems and obesity, among others.
Here’s something else we don’t usually realise – regular exercise doesn’t counter it. You may be hitting the gym every day, but that doesn’t make up for sitting down for long periods through the day (or vice versa, really).
As Gavin Bradley, Director of Get Britain Standing, a movement to get people up on their feet, says: “It’s like smoking during the 1970s and passive smoking during the 90s. We all know a sedentary lifestyle is bad for us, we just don’t realise how bad it is. Spending less time sitting down really can add years to your life. That is the most important message.”
It isn’t just about all that standing up can prevent. As Natalie Clarkson points out in her article Standing up makes for happier and productive employees, on the virgin.com blog, research also shows that standing up makes you feel more active and energised – you get more done, are more productive, and therefore more engaged. That makes you happier overall.
And it isn’t that hard to get there. Studies show that adding just two hours of standing to your work day, can make a significant difference.
Here are six suggestions on how you could go about it:
1. Add more walking to the little things you do
Start small. There are so many opportunities in your day to walk more. Look for them. It all adds up. Instead of writing an email or calling someone on the same floor, walk over and talk to them. If you’re taking a coffee break, walk to the pantry on the opposite side of the floor. Add a quick walk post lunch to your routine. Walk to the gym instead of driving. Swap lying down in front of the TV at night with a walk around the block with your children. Get creative!
2. Schedule standing meetings
Give standing meetings try, if you haven’t already. Melissa Dahl, in her New Your Magazine article Work Smarter: Meetings Are 34 Percent Shorter If You’re Standing Up, points out how standing meetings just end up being much shorter overall. People who have tried them out talk about how they are so much more productive – less distracted, more focused and efficient. Why not shift some of your shorter, regular meetings to this format for a couple of weeks and see how it works?
3. Try a standing desk
Standing desks have been catching on. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a desk that you stand and work at, instead of sitting down. The idea, while it is being tagged as the thing of workplaces of the future, isn’t new. Winston Churchill, Leonardo Da Vinci, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Jefferson and Charles Dickens, all used standing desks. Perhaps choose a higher table in your office and see what it’s like to work from there while standing?
4. Workstation popcorn
Kevin Lee, in his Fast Company article A User’s Guide To Standing While You Work, talks about how research suggests that standing up every 20 minutes can help avoid the negative side effects of sitting through the day. Workstation popcorn is one his favourite hacks to deal with this.
“You start your day with a to-do list, then plan your list around different cafes, coffee shops, and workstations, popping from one to the next once you’ve completed a set of tasks. For instance, you might start the day at the office, spend the late morning at a coffee shop, hit a co-working space in the afternoon, and return to the office conference room to wrap up your day. Walking in between each work place injects multiple opportunities for movement into your day. Though you won’t be popping from station to station every 20 minutes, you can supplement the 20-minute rule with these popcorn intervals, helping you achieve more consistent movement throughout the day.”
5. Never take the elevator when you can take the stairs
In the office, I usually take the stairs and avoid the elevator. This one is really quite simple to do.
6. Walk around while on calls
Don’t answer calls while sitting down, get up and walk around instead. During longer calls, you can even pace yourself. You will also find that, like with standing meetings, this has you more involved overall in the conversation.
7. Set a reminder on your phone to walk
All it takes is simple reminders, at regular intervals, to stand up. There are dozens of fitness trackers that you can choose from as well, like the Jawbone UP and FitBit, which will help you track your progress.
So, start doing the small things. And then take it from there. You also need to be careful to not overdo it. Standing for long periods of time can take a toll on your body. So, break it up with enough breaks in between when you sit down. And while you’re at it, try making your sitting time more productive as well!
I’d love to hear your suggestions.