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Office Space / small business advice

Is Sitting the New Smoking?

sitting-is-the-new-smokingAre you sitting comfortably at your desk? You might be considering standing up by the time you finish reading this. It seems that experts are saying “sitting is our generation’s smoking.” Research is suggesting that we are spending too much time sitting instead of standing and that could have damaging effects on our physical well being.

Some business experts like Nilofer Merchant spoke at the TED Conference in 2013 about this issue. Merchant said people now sit for an average of 9.3 hours each day, compared with sleeping an average of 7.7 hours daily. She also wrote an article in the Harvard Business Review called Sitting is the Smoking of our Generation, describing how she was converted from sit-down meetings to walking meetings as a way of staying healthier. Other health experts are describing sitting as a ticking time bomb of ill health just waiting to explode. The World Health Organization identified physical inactivity as the fourth biggest killer on the planet, just ahead of obesity.

Other studies have shown that we spend an average of 8.9 hours every day sitting down. That might involve working at the office, attending meetings within the office boardroom, in the car or on the bus going to and from work, on the couch in front of the TV, or sitting in front of a home PC. Then we spend on average another six or seven hours sleeping – which means that most of us only spend one third of our 24-hour day on our feet.

It is not just the cost to one’s health that makes this an important issue, but also the cost to business and the economy. It now costs businesses billions of dollars every year in sick days due to back, neck and muscle problems caused by employees spending most of their day sitting. Encouraging employees to work standing up could also benefit an organization’s productivity, especially since people working standing up at the office are often more alert and more mentally productive. We have all heard that a sedentary lifestyle is bad for us – we just don’t realize how bad sitting really is. For most of us, exercise means getting out of the office. Most people have not realized that spending less time sitting down really can add years to your life.

Many health experts say that 20 to 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day is what everyone should aim to achieve, but the benefits from the exercise could be lost from too much sitting. Some say it is like exercising, but then eating an unhealthy diet or exercising while being a smoker. Even just standing and moving around throughout the day is enough to increase the health of a person over just sitting all day.

The effect of sitting and working became of interest to an endocrinologist, Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic (who is credited as the inspiration for the popular treadmill desk). Dr. Levine helped to initiate a study at a small company in Minneapolis. Thirty employee desks were replaced with “Work-fit” stations so that employees can now choose to sit or stand while working. This study is just one of a handful of similar studies being conducted worldwide to see the health effects of standing rather than sitting all day while working. Standing desks are already much more common in Scandinavia, where employees actually have the legal right to work standing up.

Consider taking a walking meeting or just a walk around your office space environment a few times a day to stay alert, active and healthy. If you have work that can be done standing up, that can be a healthier choice than doing the same work while sitting. As a closing comment, it is even said that British Prime Minster Winston Churchill was often found standing at his desk because he said it made him more alert.

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