Many of us who work in offices sit for more than 8-10 hours a day. We sit for our breakfast, we sit during our commute, we sit for long stretches at our desks, we sit with our coffee/ tea during the breaks, we sit for our lunch, we sit in meetings, we sit on our way back home, we sit during dinner and watch TV while sitting. And many times we sit continuously for more than 2 hours without getting up.
Being able to sit is also a status symbol that displays higher education and higher income / wealth. People who are more educated typically have jobs that require them to be on desks; richer people do not walk to bus stops and train stations, nor do they walk to shopping centers or coffee shops.
Over the last few years there has been a concerted movement in some countries (like Australia) to encourage people to sit for lesser time during the day, reduce continuous sitting, and increase time standing and moving. However, this movement has not yet picked up any steam in India.
Summary of the Findings
Prolonged sitting has been linked with multiple health concerns like obesity, increased blood pressure, high blood-sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. It also seems to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Sitting more than 6 hours a day may be as bad as smoking a pack of cigarettes every day.
Spending focused time at the gym or doing other vigorous activity doesn’t seem to significantly offset this risk.
The answer to improve the situation (according to current understanding) is as follows:
- As far as possible, avoid sitting
- Even if you have to sit, do not sit continuously for more than 20-30 minutes
- Get as much movement as possible (even standing up and stretching every 20 minutes is movement) whether you sit or stand at work
What One Can Do
- Stand while working or alternate between standing and sitting. There are small stools/ shelves/ stands that you can use to raise the height of your PC screen or laptop (options shown below).
- Avoid sitting where the task/ activity does not require you to sit. For example:
- Lunch and coffee breaks
- Meetings and training sessions
- Watching TV
- In waiting areas like airports, bus stands, railway stations
- If your job requires you to sit, get up frequently (like every 20 mins)
- Set alarms on your devices like laptops, smartphone, PC
- Keep things you need to access regularly slightly away – don’t keep them within reach while sitting (things like your smartphone, water-bottle, stapler, files, notebook, charger, etc.)
- Get as much movement as possible, whether you stand or sit at work
- Do not ask others to get stuff to your desk – fetch the things yourself
- If you need to talk to people in your office, walk up to them, instead of using the phone or chat or email or calling them over
- Hold ‘stand up’ meetings – they finish faster too. If possible hold them in an open area like a park or a garden
- When on phone calls (that do not require you to be on your desk to access information), walk around in the office
- Use the stairs, instead of the elevators and escalators
- While travelling on the road, if possible, get off your transport one or two kilometers before the destination and walk
Furniture Options to Create Standing Desks
Though there is specialized standing furniture available, the options for well designed standing work-desks or dual mode work-desks are limited in India. However, let that not be an excuse for you to postpone making changes. Given below are some options, cheapest ones being the first.
This presents a lot of opportunities in India for services and products, like:
- Designing office spaces to optimally encourage standing and movement, while also enabling sitting
- Designing cafeterias, restaurants, public transport, etc., with options for standing and movement
- Providing specialized furniture (like a rotating table for a team?) and gizmos (like a micro treadmill embedded in the floor?)
- Consulting and advice to corporates and employees to custom design their sit-stand-move mix
In future, maybe we will see:
- Passenger aircraft with a mix of standing, sitting, movement, and lying down options 🙂
- Cars and other vehicles where the driver and passengers can stand 🙂 🙂
- Devices that can help us stand and/ or exercise while sleeping 🙂 🙂 🙂
In case you need more detailed information on this topic, you may chase the key-words “sitting or standing at work” on the Internet search engines. You will be presented with a lot of pages, including detailed research papers.
By the way, most of this post was written while standing with movement to get water, open the door, a visit to the bathroom and one to make coffee!