Published on 2nd July 2014 by Gemma Harding
Are you sitting comfortably? It’s quite possible that you spend a large portion of your working day sitting down, be it at a desk or behind a steering wheel. Even if you’ve got a particularly comfortable chair and keep an eye on your posture, maintaining a seating position for hours at a time can actually harm our health in the long term.
According to recent research conducted by the University of Regensburg in Germany, who found that sitting at a desk everyday was adding to the damage caused by our already very sedentary modern lifestyles, we will be more likely to suffer from cancers, heart problems, and diabetes in the future if we don’t get up and do something about it. Literally.
Of course, ‘modern lifestyle’ is a broad and somewhat vague term, as no one’s lifestyle is identical to anyone else’s, but if we add up commuting time spent sitting in the car or on the train, the work day itself, and the average weekday evening in front of the TV, it amounts to a staggering amount of time spent sitting down. Some of us withstand the gym, or pound the pavement for an evening jog more often than others, but even the most active gym bunny could potentially be negatively impacting on their health by sitting in front of a computer for eight hours a day.
There’s been a lot of media buzz over the last week or two about the dangers of this, and numerous think pieces have been written by journalists giving standing desks a try with generally positive results. All kinds of businesses and employers will no doubt start taking this on board in the hope of improving the health, and perhaps even increasing the productivity, of their workforce. British Vogue’s Susie Forbes has her very own treadmill desk, where she claims to be able to fulfil “every basic work function” at a reasonably normal walking pace. This might sound like too much of a culture shock to most, but the founder of LA Fitness gyms, Fred Turok, told BBC News that “even ten minutes a day having elevated your heartbeat” can improve the health of someone who is generally unused to inactivity, so it looks like there’s hope for all of us and there’s nothing wrong with taking baby steps.
There’s no doubt that adjustable desks with inbuilt treadmills would be an expensive upgrade, and kitting out a whole office with them is beyond a lot of businesses’ reach, so what small things can organisations with a largely seated workforce do to change our working culture? With our call centre workers in mind, it’s worth ensuring that headsets have appropriately long leads so everyone has the option to stand while they talk to customers. Perhaps it’s also good to be creative about where team meetings are held. Is it possible to have a ten minute chat with a team whilst standing? Does everyone have to go from one swivel chair at their desk to another identical swivel chair in a boardroom? Longer meetings, where people need to make notes are a slightly different matter and your team might not appreciate the change of location if it becomes impractical, but most everyday office communication may not need to be a sit-down affair.
Fundamentally, the most important consideration seems to be choice – allowing workers to autonomously alternate between sitting and standing, or disregard standing altogether because they simply prefer to sit during the day, as they already reserve their evenings for cardio. Not everyone would take kindly to their chair being removed or their desk being changed, and some people can’t stand as long as others because of their own physical limitations or disabilities. Considering the needs of an organisation holistically may ignore the needs of some by prioritising others’, but there’s no doubt that organisations simply do not benefit from having an increasingly unhealthy workforce, and as our technology and modern comforts constantly improve and cater to our every need, our need for a solution becomes more urgent.