I recently did a training day with a company that I will be working with this year. There was about 20 people in the room all sitting except the facilitator. After an hour, I gingerly got up from my chair and when to listen at the back of the room. The lady who had been sitting next to me said, ‘oh poor you, do you have a sore back?’ At morning tea, another women commented on me standing, I replied ‘I just can’t sit that long’ she gave me a puzzled look and moved on to talk to someone else.
The experience got me thinking, sitting in the workplace is such a strong social norm so much so that we have taught ourselves to ignore signals coming from our body of discomfort and the need to move because we don’t want to appear impolite or go against a social norm.
Sitting is such a strong social norm
Most of us are aware that the research is saying sitting too long it isn’t good for us and we need to make sure that we move during the day. But how bad is sitting for us really? What is the research? How much sitting is healthy in a day? I started going through the research. (And there is a lot) I was pretty shocked by the results!
One study compared adults who spent less than two hours a day in sitting front of the TV or other screen-based entertainment in comparison to those who logged more than 4 hours a day sitting in their recreational time. The research showed that the second group had a 50% increased risk of death from any cause! And a 125% percent increased risk of cardiovascular disease, such as chest pain (angina) or heart attack.
So if we sit too much we are likely to die early from disease but perhaps even more shockingly I found research shows that by sitting too much you are actually shortening your life.
Every hour you spend sitting reduces your life by 21 mins!
One study found that cells age faster with a sedentary lifestyle. Even If you exercise regularly you are actively shortening your lifespan if most of your daily hours are sedentary.
The bottom line (pun indented!) is that every hour you spend on your bottom reduces your life expectancy by 21.8minutes regardless of exercise and diet. Other research has calculated that each cigarette you smoke reduces your life expectancy by roughly 11 minutes. So in this sense sitting for long periods of time is twice as bad for us that smoking!
(British journal of sports medicine.)
Why is this? Why is sitting down so bad for the body? It’s not properly understood yet but we know that muscle activity needed for standing and moving around triggers important processes related to breaking down fats and sugars in the body.
Sitting too much in a day makes a difference to your long term health, to your risk of chronic illness and speeds up the rate of aging in your body. This was a huge eye opener for me. I am an avid runner and run about 70km a week, but I also was sitting for large chunks of the day with clients and at my computer, I thought that I had a good balance but apparently not. I now have a standing desk and try to be more aware of when my body needs to move through the day.
How much sitting in a day is too much? What is a healthy level of sitting? Research suggests that we should not sit for more than 20mins without standing up or walking around. This is probably a lot more than we are currently doing in the workplace and require a serious shift in the way we work
The culture around sitting is starting to change in but it’s very slow.
Studies have shown the average adult spends 90% of their leisure time sitting down. (45 Up study in Australia involving 267,000 people).
When we watch a seminar, attend meetings, have lunch with colleges, still the expectation is to sit.
A few years ago I participated in a training course San Jose, California. The facilitator told us that every 30 mins an alarm would go off and we were expected to stand up and stretch and then we could sit down again if we chose to, or carry on standing. The training carried on seamlessly while this was going on every half hour. Really not that hard to implement but it made a huge different to the environment and our ability to focus, I found I was a lot more energized throughout the training.
Let’s lead a change in the workplace culture of sitting.
Yes sitting is an accepted practice within the workplace but that doesn’t mean that we can’t challenge and change this habit for the sake of our own health and that of our work colleges. The next time you are sitting during a meeting, participating in training or at your desk be aware of the signals coming from your body. Stand up and stretch. Notice how this effects your focus and energy. Encourage others to do the same. Let’s lead a change in the workplace culture of sitting. It may feel strange at first, but think every time you do it you could be adding on an extra 20mins on yours or someone else’s life!