The problems of sitting all day long

I remember going to a gym for the first time. It was well before all these newer gymnasiums sprang up with ultra-modern machines with an air-conditioned ambiance. The instructor told me, “Do free-hand exercises first; without any weights”. Only after getting experienced with push-ups, sit-ups, free squats and other exercises was a newbie allowed to touch barbells or dumbbells. Only if he had the motivation to travel over a mile going to the gym to do these exercises for at least a month, when otherwise he could have done it comfortably inside his own home. The foreign body-building magazines that I had access to said, “There is no point in doing exercises in any way other than that maximizes muscle-stimulation by doing it with the maximum weight that can be handled by the person”. It seemed that nobody, even the gym instructor, paid any heed to these foreign bodybuilding magazines.

It all changed now. Gymnasiums are booming now and generally you can experiment with any exercise program, with or without expert supervision.

This piece is not about going to the gym, but on the perils of sitting all day long in an office. A lot of people say that sitting all day long is not good for the body, and that it is equivalent to smoking. I searched the internet with the phrase “sitting is smoking”. The search returned millions of pages, some with titles such as Sitting is the new smoking, Your desk job is killing you, and How harmful is too much sitting?

In earlier times, the rich and famous used to stand up while working. Noteworthy people include U.S. founding father Benjamin Franklin, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, author Virginia Woolf, author Ernest Hemingway and former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Recently, research co-commissioned by Public Health England says office workers should be on their feet for four hours of the working day.

Traditionally, upper-middle-class men – white collar jobholders – the office goers – the sedentary types would contract with diabetes in an ‘it’s-only-a-matter-of-time’ fashion. The cure? There is no cure for diabetes. It can only be medically managed. It was like a mantra. According to latest studies, people who sit all day long are susceptible not only to diabetes, but to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, fat deposits around the waist, blood clots in the vein and so on and so forth. Even cancer.

I too work in an office. But when I try to occasionally stand up during work, the system administrator would come up with a “Is everything okay?” kind of inquisitiveness in his face. Nevertheless, I try to take frequent breaks and I try to offer the co-passenger my seat and stand up while commuting to work.

It is time that we change this pattern. For the better. For good. How? By providing an option to our employees to stand-up during work. By choosing companies to work for that provides this option. A sit-stand desk has an upfront cost, but it is easily recouped by way of healthier employees, less employee-absenteeism due to illness, lower healthcare costs, and higher productivity and creativity. The world is moving toward this direction. So can us.

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