We spend most of our day slouched in our chair and glued to our gadgets. It’s unnatural, unhealthy and increasingly uncool. Eva Pavithran reports on a new revolution that has more and more people standing at their desks
The human race struggled for centuries just to be able to stand upright. And then in just a couple of generations, we went from bipeds to couch potatoes. Today, we are unapologetically leashed to our desks and screens, evolution be damned. But what is it doing to us? Endocrinologist Dr Jagdish Rao, Bangalore, explains, “Sitting for long hours causes the body to shut down metabolically. When your muscles, which are meant for movement, are immobile, your circulation slows down and you end up expending fewer calories. This, in turn, causes weight gain, which starts affecting your hormones.” This also puts key bulge-fighting enzymes, responsible for breaking down triglycerides (a type of fat), out of business. “If you sit for a whole day, you reduce the ability of these enzymes to function by 50 per cent,” says Dr Rao.
Now that we have pretty much established how sitting for long hours is bad, here’s a simple solution to all of those life-threatening problems: just stand up. In response to studies that warn against the ‘sitting disease’,
people have begun to redesign their lifestyles, especially at work. Even corporates today see the wisdom in providing standing desks—it’s cheaper than all the sick days lost to backaches. Even if you change nothing else, just standing while you work can immediately improve your health. Here’s how:
Spondylitis, low back pain and slipped discs are common injuries that plague those who clock long hours in front of the computer. Mumbai-based personal trainer Dhiren Verma says, “When you sit all day long, your inner hip muscles and hamstrings tighten and the muscles around your spine become stiff. Then, when you head to the gym or do highintensity workouts, the weak and stiff muscles especially in your back are at risk of injury.On the other hand, standing tones your postural muscles—calves, hamstrings and hip flexors.” When you stand up or take microbreaks every 45 to 60 minutes, your muscles and spine get a good stretch, which reduces chances of injury considerably.
Recent research suggests that those who spend more than six hours, sitting daily and exercise regularly are more likely to have heart disease, than those who sit less than three to four hours per day and don’t exercise at all. This makes what you do outside the gym equally important. It’s best to stick to your workout schedule and reduce the hours you spend on a chair.
SITTING IS THE NEW SMOKING
Those with desk jobs spend close to 55 hours a week—that is more than 10 hours a day—just sitting. Here’s how that affects the body:
Lack of movement can result in poor circulation and fluid retention, and may lead to knee pain and swollen ankles.
BLOOD SUGAR SPIKES
“It’s absolutely critical to go for a 15-minute walk or stand up, post lunch or dinner,” advises Dr Rao. Your blood sugar levels rise after every meal (yes, even if you just ate a salad). “The less you move, the less blood sugar your body uses and the leftover sugars are saved as fat.” Your chances of becoming diabetic also go up.
All work and no play can make even the brightest of us dull. Counsellor Sonal Gupta, Mumbai, says, “People who sit idle or in one place for too long can be prone to depression. Any form of physical activity increases blood flow and releases feel-good endorphins, which signal your brain to be happy.”
That belt-budge and butt fat are thanks to long hours on the chair. Inactivity can make your cells and enzymes lazy, and the weight you put on only encourages your fat cells to find that favourite corner in your body to deposit even more (read hips, tummy and butt).
To paraphrase Newton’s Third Law, for every new scientific study, there is or will be an equal and opposing research. Standing can also strain your legs and knees, especially if you’re overweight or can’t part with your stilettoes. The truth of the matter is that balance is the key in keeping your body at its optimum health level.
Just as exercise isn’t as effective as when it is combined with a balanced diet, staying in one position for too long is bad for the body as well. Standing can cause varicose veins and lower back problems if you overdo it.
A recent New York Times story tracked 123,000 Americans and found that the death rate for those who spent six or more hours a day sitting was 20 per cent higher than for those who sat for three hours or less. For women, the difference was 40 percent. That’s right, sitting kills! Standing up, burns more calories, reduces the body’s fat
percentage and lowers risk of strokes.
You get more done when you’re standing up. Basically, it’s a trick your mind plays—when you’re sitting, you are relaxed and slouchy, but standing up, you’re alert and are raring to go.
Standing workstations are the new way in which companies like Google and Facebook are investing in employee well-being. Aashima Lakhanpal, who works at Google in Mumbai, uses a standing desk. “I am tall and I used to slouch while sitting, and standing took care of that issue. I don’t sit down too much during the day, unless I have a meeting. A standing workstation is also therapeutic because I am not stressed even after a long day.” Talk to your HR team to find out if your office can accommodate a standing desk.
You might not to be able to stand for hours at first. Start slowly with 10-minute stints and gradually increase the time. The keyboard should hit slightly below elbow level and the computer screen should be, at eye level, tilted upwards at a 20° angle. However, the goal is not to simply adopt a new working position. The point is to alternate between sitting, standing and walking throughout the day so you’re not staying inactive for too long.
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