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Taking a stand on sitting down

Our wellbeing depends on constant movement

We all sit far too much. Our habits and behaviours are shaped by the Digital Age in which we live. According to official data, more than 25 percent of the UK’s working population of 32 million people work predominantly in front of a screen and spend up to 8 hours a day sitting down.

The consequences of this for our wellbeing are profound and complex. The results of all the major medical studies conducted in the recent past have shown that these extend far beyond mere back problems. These are so significant that when magazines publish stories on the subject with headlines like ‘Sitting is the New Smoking’, ‘Sitting Kills’ or even ‘Sitting Makes People Stupid’, they are not resorting to hyperbole. Each of these studies demonstrates, the act of passively sitting for extended periods of time with reduced muscular effort is associated with a wide range of serious health and wellbeing issues including an increased risk of early mortality.

Life is about movement. When we reduce our opportunity to move, we increase our risk of illness.

Modern life and the demands we place on our minds and bodies can run counter to our very nature. The regular use of our muscles – our largest metabolic structures – is essential for our physical and mental wellbeing.

Researchers have shown repeatedly that this fibrous tissue is not merely a self-contained system that propels us from one position to another in response to instructions from the brain. It is a major organic system in its own right, fully integrated with all the body’s organs. It not only helps to protect and strengthen each of our major organs but also produces a range of beneficial physical, mental and emotional outcomes.

As much sitting as needed, as much movement as possible

The bottom line is that for people of all ages, the less time we spend sitting in a fixed position, the better for our physical, mental and social wellbeing. That does not mean there is some black and white distinction that sitting is bad and standing is good. We must understand that things are more complex than that.

We understand how we can improve a wide range of metabolic function and productivity with regular shifts between sitting and standing, especially when combined with many day-to-day activities such as walking and climbing stairs. To encourage such shifts between seated and standing positions, it is now possible to specify a range of height-adjustable, sit-stand workstations and tables. Even the great German writer Goethe understood how important it was to make such changes. ‘Comfortable seating lifts my thoughts’, he wrote.

The benefits of sit-stand work are maximised when introduced as part of an holistic approach to workplace wellbeing. What this means in practice is as one element in a workplace that encourages people to change how they get things done. So it is advisable that, as well as the provision of sit-stand workstations, people have access to a range of furniture elements that encourage them to stand and change their posture more frequently and in intuitive ways. These might include fixed or mobile meeting tables at standing height or counters in break out spaces that encourage people to enjoy a drink or hold impromptu meetings while standing.

Source: Dr. Dieter Breithecker, Federal Working Group for the Promotion of Posture and Exercise e. V. Wiesbaden

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