Down with Sitting and Be Upstanding for your Health
Life was high risk throughout most of the nineteenth century, just as it had been for thousands of years beforehand. Lots of children died at birth or soon after, as you can easily observe by reading the gravestones in a local churchyard. Even after surviving childhood, death was common and early and must of it was preventable, primarily by keeping drinking water safe from pollution by sewage, better housing and a regular supply of an adequate amount of food. Infectious diseases, cholera, typhoid, TB and Typhus were all major killers but, with the exception of TB, they are new regarded as “tropical diseases.” . The risks to health reduced dramatically in the century from 1850 to 1950, but then two new dangers emerged. One was cigarette smoking which may well kill a billion people in the 21st Century, although it is declining in some wealthy countries. The other was inactivity.
Television programmes in which young fit people have to survive in the countryside or on an island, sometimes with Bear Grylls on hand for advice and comfort, are portrayed as being at high risk. However, they are at higher risk in their daily life because most of them spend their life sitting down, in a car, or at a desk, or both and sometimes, because of the Internet they do not even have to leave their home to go to work.
The rise of the car, the desk job and the Internet have transformed working life. In some ways of course the transformation is for the better. No-one would want to return to the days of back breaking and dangerous work but the modern world is a very dangerous place and the instrument of danger is the chair or, just as bad, if not worse, the sofa!
How sitting kills
There are three reasons why sitting is bad for you.
- It causes obesity
- You lose the benefits of exercise
- It leads to inflammation
Sitting and weight gain.
When you are sitting you burn about 1 calorie per minutes, when you stand it is 2 calories per minutes. Sounds not much of a difference but because of the amount of time you spend sitting the effect is huge and there are two important facts to bear in mind.
• During the time the obesity epidemic has developed the consumption of calories has gone down but the expenditure of calories has gone down even more. It is not over eating that has caused the obesity epidemic it is over eating and over sitting.
• If you were in a sitting job and stood up for two of the eight hours instead of sitting for all eight hours for one year, the energy used is equivalent to fifteen marathons
Increased fitness increases the risk of many diseases but activity has benefits other than the prevention of obesity.
Sitting and inactivity
Physical activity is very important in reducing the risk of many common diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, and heart disease. The opposite is also true. Inactivity increases the risk of many diseases, including disability and dementia as the Academy of Medical Royal colleges emphasised in their 2014 report filed “Exercise, the Miracle Cure… Obviously the younger you start the better but physical activity is of vital importance as a preventive measure for people in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.
One way in which it may do this is by preventing inflammation
Sitting and inflammation.
One fascinating field of research is increasing our understanding of the process of inflammation. Not the type of acute inflammation you get when a cut becomes infected, or your throat becomes red and painful but chronic, silent inflammation in all the key tissues of the body like the blood vessels and the brain. What is now known is that the stress reaction which was very helpful when deciding whether to fight or run away from a hungry neighbour or a sabre tooth tiger in Neanderthal, stone age, times but that stress is very dangerous if it occurs when you are inactive, watching the television or arguing with a family member for example.
The formula which is now emerging is simple but deadly
Sitting + Stress = Inflammation
The conclusion is clear – we need to sit less and although research has shown that many people become more active after retirement research also shows that too many people in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s spend too much time in high risk behaviour – sitting down!
Standing for Good Posture
Standing is good for you not only because of the energy expenditure but also because it helps you maintain a good posture. The image of the older person on the triangular road sign is always stooped and this is a long standing image, Chaucer wrote about the widow “some stope in age” in the fourteenth century Sometimes disease affects the spine and the usual cause of spinal collapse is osteoporosis, thinning of the bone, but for most people the forward stoop with the head poking forward is the result of years or decades of stooping over a key board or desk or slumping in a sofa. This leads to weakening of the muscles and often the ligaments, that connect the bones of the spine to one another and the tendons that connect muscle to bone become set so that the head is no longer on top of the spine but poked forward.
What is worse a vicious cycle develops
The head pokes forward
The weight of the head increases by 10 ibs for every inch it pokes forward (try holding a one-pound bag of flour with a straight arm in front of you with the other arm holding a one-pound bag of flour by your side and feel the effects of weight in front of you)
The muscles and joints become fixed to support the increased weight of the head
If you are sitting in a curve like the letter C it is bad for your posture and the stress on your neck muscle and joints can affect the nerves that flows from the spinal column in the neck to the arms and hands. This can result in tingling in the fingers, which is often called Repetitive Strain Injury RSI but should really be called BPA, Bad Posture Syndrome.
Whatever your age and wherever you are, think about your posture and correct it. Don’t stick your chin forward, pull your chin in and imagine there is a hook in the crown of your head which is attached to a rope which is gently pulling your spine into a nice straight line with gentle curves.
Here are some other tips for good posture
• Concentrate on the exercises for core strength
• Never stand with your arms folded
• Look in shop windows as you pass for a quick check on your posture
• Every time you look at your watch think “posture, posture,posture” and take corrective action.
How to Sit less
The science is clear. Although standing instead of sitting is not vigorously or moderately intense activity it is activity that is much better for you than sitting but how are people putting this into practice.
Many people in their sixties are still working in jobs that require them to sit at a desk or a counter, looking at a screen or, if you are lucky other people as well. Of course very few people are able to walk or cycle to work so the sitting at work is often preceded and followed by sitting while commuting. People who use public transport are luckier in that they have the walk to and from the station or bus stop and, if very lucky, might be able to stand doing the journey. Much is written about the bad manners of the young but anyone who likes to stand on a bus or train for the good of their health knows they will have to resist numerous offers of a seat from well mannered and well intentioned young people. These have to be refused as politely as possible with the truth, namely “I’m in training for my eighties and nineties” being difficult to convey during the rush hour. It is often necessary therefore to give a reason such as “I’m getting off soon.” Another technique is to reduce the risk of receiving an offer by trying not to catch the eye of a young person who is sitting down.
At work try to stand for about one quarter of the day. If this is not possible, make sure you get up and stretch for at least two minutes every thirty minutes.
Tell the boss or manager that they will get more and better work out of you if you stand, and take a twenty-minute walk at lunch time. You can ask for a standing desk but if it does not appear you can make working while standing easier by putting the keyboard on one plastic office storage box at the height of your elbows, with the screen a little higher in line with your eyes.
An increasing number of people, many of them over sixty, do their work at home, and not in an office. Obviously people have worked at home for centuries but home working means doing a job in your own home. There are many types of home working, people make Harris Tweed in their own homes for example. What is really dangerous is doing a sitting job, desk work or computer work or telephoning at home. The reason for this is that doing a desk job at home is very inactive. Instead of walking to the bus stop or station the homeworker simply has to slide from bed to the dining room table, calling in at the kitchen for breakfast enroute to the table, and of course being able to nip back and forth for snacks until the end of the working day at which point instead of struggling back to the bus or train on the way home the home worker can simply slide from their desk to the sofa and switch on the TV using a remote of course.
However, there are many other opportunities for standing when in doubt stand up.
If you are a home worker: –
- Go for a brisk walk for ten minutes before you start work.
- Walk for 20 minutes briskly in the middle of the day.
- Finish the working day with a ten-minute walk.
- Get up and walk about as often as you can. For example, if you have a call to make or receive a call get up and walk about inside or out. Don’t worry about walking briskly when on the phone your customer won’t wait to hear heavy breathing. Just walk slowly while on a business call even gentle walking is much better than sitting.
- At home, just stand as often and as much as you can
Here are some sample ideas for standing more:
- Always stand for the weather forecast.
- Stand every time advertisements come on the television.
- Stand up when you are typing or reading; you don’t need a standing desk just find a surface of the right height
- Stand up when on the phone and keep a 3 Kilogram or 1 Kilogram dumbbell beside the phone so that when someone is rabbiting on at the other end of the line you are at least doing something healthy.
- Keep the remote control beside the television not beside your thigh so that you have to get up every time you want to change channels.
- If you sew or knit or have a hobby, do it standing not sitting for as long as you can.