How sitting harms your health

Is sitting down at work harming your health?
09 June 2015

Interview with 

John Buckley, Chester University


Are you sitting comfortably? If so, you might want to stand up, because Sitting at work deskaccording to many recent headlines, the sedentary lifestyle is harming your health. Some businesses are even installing "standing desks" and scheduling "walking meetings" to combat the risk. But what are the facts? Georgia Mills spoke to John Buckley from Chester University, who has been looking at the evidence...

John - Well most people spend 70 per cent of their waking hours actually sitting down. So, a group of us from around the world have collected up information along with some of the larger observational studies that they've taken on people who have had standing jobs. So for example in Canada, a Canadian fitness survey looked at people's different occupations and followed them for a number of years - 13 years, in fact - and looked at those occupations where people are predominantly sitting and people predominantly standing and showing a clear link that as people stood more in their day, they had fewer instances of early death or heart disease, diabetes and some cancers.

Georgia - Why is sitting down so bad for you?

John - Well, you're not using your muscles at all really. As soon you engage your muscles, then your body obviously has a small physiological challenge to maintain that posture. So, as soon as you're doing a little bit of work, everything is elevated. The whole system is like breathing, just like the heart, metabolism is raised. And all those factors are just working the system a little bit all the time, making sure your blood sugars are operating at the right level and taking up little bits of fat, a little bit of cholesterol, in very small amounts if you extend it over a long period of time. We're thinking that, that is probably why these things are related to better health outcomes because the body is designed to be active and moving.

Georgia - I am one of these people who spends a huge amount of time sitting down at my computer. What should I be doing?

John - The ultimate option is you get a sit / stand desk so that you could raise your whole desk up and you could stand and work at it for a number of hours, 3 to 4 hours in the day but you don't have to do it all at once. If you haven't made that investment, then to make sure that throughout the day, you are actually getting up on your feet for at least 5 minutes to 10 minutes at a time and that could be like what we're doing now. We're having a discussion on the telephone and you're recording this, so you're not having to write anything down. So, there isn't any reason why we can't be having this meeting standing up.

Georgia - So, should I stand up?

John - Yes.

Georgia - Okay, I'm going to raise the microphone up and I'm going to stand up and now, I'm less likely to get cardiovascular problems.

John - Well, if you did this for the next 20 minutes, 3 or 4 times in the day because I'm sure you have opportunities during the day where you've got these blocks of 20 minutes when you can actually do this.

Georgia - How much time in total and how often should we be trying to stand up?

John - Well, that's the million-dollar question with all of this, but looking at the current evidence, it looks like people need to do 2 or more hours per day if you're an office worker. And the benefits really show a lot of difference when people are doing 4 or more hours per day.

Georgia - That's a huge amount of time. I'm sure many people will be thinking, "This just simply isn't feasible for me."

John - It depends how you achieve it. We're going to have this discussion for 20 minutes. How many of these discussions do you have in a day?

Georgia - I'm on the phone quite a lot.

John - Okay, so why can't you spend most of the time - you could walk around even by having discussion on the phone.

Georgia - Is just standing up enough or do you have to move around as well?

John - The data that we have from people who were just doing sort of standing up interventions, it looks like they're having to do sort of more than 5 minutes at a time.

Georgia - Earlier, you mentioned standing desks. Is there any evidence that these are really good for you and can improve your healthy?

John - Yes. We're seeing amazing changes to people's energy expenditure, to their changes in blood glucose, and even starting to see changes in people's productivity and their alertness as well.


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