When you read this column, you will probably be sitting in an armchair or, possibly, at your desk. In that case, you won’t be standing up and walking around, and the consequences are that you might be taking years off your life, just by sitting! There is also the possibility that you are increasing your risk of developing heart disease, blood clots on the brain and even certain types of cancer, just by being sedentary. This is all rather scary bearing in mind how much sitting most of us do per day.
Recent evidence suggests that being seated for much of the day can also increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, standing up daily for an extra 90 minutes, plus regular exercise, may actually lower your chances of developing this serious metabolic disorder. The incidence of diabetes is increasing dramatically in many areas of the developed world including America, Europe and the Middle East including the UAE – and its prevention, plus better cardiac health, are both possible by adopting some healthy lifestyle habits.
Standing room only
The longer you spend sitting, the higher the amounts of blood glucose and fat accumulate in your blood regardless of the time that you spend exercising. Scientists have found that a person’s metabolic rate crashes to a minimum figure when sitting but that standing up for an extra three hours a day, even without exercising, could on average burn off about 3.6 kg of fat a year.
The current advice to lowering the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes is to exercise regularly but, perhaps, it is now time to consider also the recommendation to stand up more often, especially at work during the day.
Studies suggest that many of us spend about 9-10 hours a day sitting, either at the office, in the car or train, or in front of the television. But some people spend even longer sitting down, sometimes for up to 16 hours per day, leaving little time for any other physical activity during waking hours.
But how exactly is sitting detrimental to our health?
The effects of spending too much time in a chair are manifold. Neurological activity in the leg muscles shuts down; our body effectively stops burning calories; enzymes that break down fat drop by 90 per cent; HDL (good) cholesterol production drops by 20 per cent and the risk of diabetes increases by about 24 per cent.
As soon as we sit, our blood sugar is adversely affected but as soon as we stand up, our blood sugar starts to go down, triglycerides (a measure of heart health) improve and we become overall mentally sharper and more productive.
So what can you do about it?
• Stand whenever you can: If you are not typing on your keyboard, then try working standing up.
• Office desks: Standing up work stations are a great new initiative.
• When the phone rings: Get on your feet while you are speaking.
• Hold “walking” meetings: It may be possible to sometimes take your team outside the office to walk about whilst you are having a brainstorming session.
• Introduce standing meetings: These will have the advantage of ensuring that they don’t run over time as people will be dissuaded from becoming too comfortable and better able to focus on the task in hand.
• Walk to speak to your colleague instead of emailing! This is not only better for your health but it can also improve your interpersonal communication skills.
• Have a one-minute micro break every hour: Stand up. March in place for 20 seconds. Reach down and touch your toes for 20 seconds. Use the next 20 seconds to tidy your desk as you walk around it.
• Walk over to the filing cabinet instead of rolling your chair over to reach it.
• Travelling by metro: Stand rather than sit for at least half the journey.
It is very easy to get caught up in what you are doing and forget to stand and, likewise, at the end of a busy day, it is easy to sit in a chair where the only part of your body that you exercise is your finger on the remote control. So if my column has focused your mind on standing rather than sitting, then it will have been a worthwhile read.
Anyway, I must finish now because I need to stand up and go for a short walk myself! What about you?