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Get off your bum! Your office chair could be killing you (very slowly)

An office chair. Yesterday.I have some bad news to tell you – are you sitting down? Well, I’m sorry to break it to you, but your office chair could be killing you. I know it looks harmless, with its ergonomic arm rests and comfy sponge seat, but each hour you spend sitting in it could be causing your arteries to harden. That chair could also be making you fatter and even increasing your chances of diabetes.

A comprehensive report published earlier this month has concluded that most of us Britons spend far too much time on our bum. Today’s jobs involve far more time behind a desk than ever before and, as a result, the average Briton spends a buttock-numbing 8.9 hours sitting down every day. By international standards, 95% of Brits are classified as ‘inactive’ – even though over half of us think we get enough exercise. It our laidback lifestyle that is contributing to soaring rates of obesity, heart disease and possibly even depression. Put simply, our bodies are screaming out for some exercise – jand work isn’t helping.

The solution, according the team of international scientists behind the Public Health England supported report, is to simply stand up more. Two hours a day standing – eventually increasing to four hours – is the prescribed dose for everyone in a desk-based job. Ideally broken up into chunks, no more than thirty minutes should be spent in one spot. Being on our pins is the first step to a more active life, giving our leg and back muscles some stimulation while encouraging us to wander down the corridor to see Debbie from HR (rather than sending an email). Just standing an extra 30 minutes a day will lead to an estimated weight loss of 5.2 lb (2.4kg) over a year.

It sounds easy so – in the name of science and my health – I decided to write this article standing up. I soon discovered, however, that it’s not as straightforward as it should be. Finding somewhere to perch a computer at a suitable height is tricky; half-leaning over a table attracts funny looks while working by the kitchen sink is decidedly risky. Most offices have these same issues and cater only for the wheeled office chair. ‘Sit-stand’ desks (tables with adjustable height controls) are suggested as an alternative, allowing the worker to alternate between standing, leaning and sitting. They are popular in Scandinavia, where 90% of office workers have access to one, but hardly anyone in Britain uses them.

So while we petition our employers to get better table arrangements, there are other ways to escape the slump. Recommendations from the report include computer-based ‘get off your bum’ alerts, stair use promotions, and even the locking of nearby toilets. Meetings with colleagues can be done standing or leaning – and science tells us that such pow-wows are more productive and creative. Not every job is best done supine, of course. Research tells us that we are better at analytical, number crunching, tasks when sitting down. It’s sensible, therefore, to save our desk for the really tough jobs.

Incidentally, completely separate experiments have previously shown that lying down is the best posture for creative thinking. Convincing your boss to invest in a ‘creativity booth’ (aka bed) might be a step too far though.

Thanks for reading – all opinions expressed are my own. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.

Photo Credit: jeffdjevdet via Compfight cc

About Stuart Farrimond

I love writing about science and health subjects. Strange, because I also teach the same things. I trained as a medical doctor before turning my hand to other things. Shortlisted for The Guardian/Observer for Science Writer of the Year 2011 and editor for Guru Magazine I also like to grow large pumpkins...


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