Stand up to feel good in the office

Gillian Cooper
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Standing up generally gets a bad press. How many times have we heard our mums or mates complain 'Oh I've been on my feet all day,' and shot a sympathetic smile their way and a few consolatory words.
In fact, recent studies show their efforts could be bringing benefits to their health and general well-being.

In short, standing up is good for us. The average Brit spends almost nine hours a day sitting down (not to mention the hours we pass while sleeping). Any more than seven hours, however, and this sedentary lifestyle starts throwing up some quite sinister side effects, not least a 5% increased risk of premature death with each additional hour off our feet.

But why is putting our feet up so bad for us? Quite simply, it alters the way our bodies deal with sugar. Lack of physical activity makes us less efficient at keeping glucose levels down, which leads to a higher chance of developing diabetes or heart disease. A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that serial sitters are more than twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease than those who recline the least, and face a 13% increased risk of cancer too.

The findings have prompted Public Health England to issue warnings to office workers. Last summer the organisation formally recommended that employees should spend at least two hours a day standing or walking round, with four hours touted as the optimum time on their feet.

The advice naturally causes something of a headache for HR departments, who are advised to install sit-stand desks for staff and/or other options for moving around freely in the office. In this respect, some of our European cousins are already way ahead of the game. A report in the Guardian cited research claiming 90% of Scandinavian workers have access to adjustable desks, compared to just 1% in the UK.

But we don't need to rely on employers alone to fix the problem. Simple movements like delivering a message to your colleague in person, rather than firing off an email, will help, or walking the long way to the toilets. Other suggestions from the experts? Stand up while you talk on the phone or - that perennial favourite - take the stairs rather than the lift.

Even those who exercise regularly outside of the office aren't exempt from this advice. Prolonged sitting is just plain bad for us, and can't be 'undone' as straightforwardly as hitting the gym for half an hour on the way home. That said, moving around more at work isn't a substitute for regular physical exercise either. All-round fitness depends on aerobic activities like running or cycling, plus strength-training too - sit-ups, squats and suchlike.

So, food for thought the next time you're munching your sandwiches 'al desko'. Stand up for your rights - and health - at work by weaving regular movement into the 9-5. And lest you still have any doubts about the benefits of standing, in the time taken to read this post alone take comfort from the fact you've burned 0.7 more calories a minute than if you were still in your chair.

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