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Posted at: Nov 25, 2015, 12:12 AM; last updated: Nov 24, 2015, 10:24 PM (IST)ANTI OBESITY DAY: NOVEMBER 26

Time to stand up

What can you do?

  • Script a keep-moving plan that weaves in seamlessly with your daily work routine. There are many small activities that can keep you moving without impacting productivity at work.
  • Learning desk yoga is another good option; it will give you a bouquet of exercises, which do not need elaborate space for exercising. Using simple and less than five minutes of individual activities you can stretch and keep your body from stagnating in one place.
  • Set a reminder on your phone or laptop that buzzes every 30 minutes. Frequently taken small breaks tend to improve level of comfort, work performance, and significantly reduce the chances of musculoskeletal injuries.
  • Weave in a pattern of movement in yourday-to-day worklife e.g. walk to a printer, water fountain, stand for a meeting, take the stairs, walk around the floor, park a bit further away from the building each day.

Jappreet Sethi

Having a corner seat in the office has been one of the most cherished achievements in an employee’s life — a desk, which has a good, view and can comfortably seat the incumbent for eight to 10 hours daily. Did you know that, having a permanent seat in the office might be doing more harm to your health than what you have envisaged. The peril of being fixated to the office seat came into limelight after James Levine, a Scientist at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, reported in 2006 that sitting down for too long isn’t just bad for you, it can also kill you.

Research says that extended sitting is not good

Dr. Hidde Van Der Ploeg, a senior research fellow at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health in Australia, and his colleagues found that sitting for 11 or more hours per day increased risk of death by 40 per cent, regardless of other activity levels. And Dr. Ploeg is not alone in his findings; the larger community is on the same page. A recent review of 43 studies analysing daily activity and cancer rates found that people who reported sitting for more hours of the day had a 24 per cent greater risk of developing colon cancer, a 32 per cent higher risk of endometrial cancer and a 21 per cent higher risk of lung cancer — irrespective of how much they exercised.

“Prolonged sitting is equivalent to smoking. While all of us are concerned about our health, constantly looking out for alternatives to help us stay fit like eating healthy or working out, we ignore what is the most basic: the time we spend sitting down”, says Vandana Luthra, Founder of VLCC chain that is backing the “Stand up India” campaign on the occasion of World Anti Obesity Day on November 26 this year.

Why is continuous sitting so harmful?

New research has been able to pin point as to why sitting for long is harmful; researchers opine that sitting for long impairs the body’s ability to deposit fat from the blood stream into the body, leading to constantly elevated levels of blood fat that can lead to cardiovascular problems. In addition to this, the body’s good fat molecules, commonly known as HDL are less efficient in their work.

India's average overweight percentage has jumped from around 14 per cent in 1980 to around 20 per cent today. It is an established fact that an average person spends 19 hours a day by being sedentary. This physical inaction is a threat for many.

“The number of overweight and obese people is on the rise all over the world and India currently has their third largest concentration. The epidemic could be attributed to a combination of two lifestyle factors: an increasing consumption of calorie-rich food and a sharp drop in the level of physical activity. In India, the rise in obesity is speculated to be directly leading to the prevalence of metabolic disorders such as type-2 diabetes, or diabetes mellitus”, says Vandana.

If you believe that hitting the gym would undo the damage, you are in for a surprise. Incidentally, research points out those ‘extra-curricular’ trips to the gym, before work or after office hours do not undo the bad effects of a day spent siting on the desk.

So what do you do? Is standing at work the magic pill? Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, says, “I think it’s correct to say we’re in the middle of a ‘stand up movement,’ but the emphasis needs to be on movement, I don’t want people to think that they should stand up like still soldiers. That is not a good idea.”

“If daily sitting time was reduced the beneficial effect on population health could be comparable to that achieved for reducing smoking, inactivity or overweight and obesity. A simple act of 'standing up' is the first step in fighting obesity”, adds Vandana.

Changing work dynamics

In the western countries, standing desks have come into fashion, where you stand and work. Companies in London, Denmark and South Korea are offering sitting-standing desks to their employees to keep them fit. Notable companies like Hubspot, the global leader in Cloud-based CRM software and Pharma major, Glaxo have experimented with standing desks in their office.

You could buy an elevated stand and covert your table into a standing desk, that’s a makeshift arrangement and would not burn a big hole in your pocket.

Building on this opportunity, Luke Leafgren, who completed his Phd from Harvard University raised over US $ 100k in a crowd funding campaign to build a portable standing desk. It is called StandStand, you can use it anywhere you work to transform a table or desk into a standing desk.

The trend, however, is yet to catch up in India and most of the employers we interacted with do not plan to introduce it in the near future.

Where does India figure

Realisation of the perils of sitting for longer durations is slowly dawning on employers in India, though there is still a long way to go in this regard. Companies like BHEL, HCL, Kotak Mahindra Bank and SAP India have pledged to participate in Stand Up India campaign by encouraging their staff to stand up and be moving more frequently. It is actually some startups that are leading the pack in this regard, Swapnil Sahoo, an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur and Director of Architectural firm Arth Design says, “We changed our office just because we wanted an office with terrace where people can go and work from if they want to”. No wonder then that at present in his office most of the employees like working from the terrace in the Hyderabad office, being seated in the open sky makes them take a stroll more frequently. When quizzed about productivity loss, as they are not in a closed office, Swapnil said that there has been no loss of productivity. “They are making lesser errors and designs are more creative than before. Start ups like The Viral Fever, of the startup video series Pitchers fame are experimenting with minimal desks for staff and lots of flexible seating and working options. “This trend is catching up with new clients, albeit a bit slowly, says Sahoo.

Mrbutton.com, an online retailer for men’s fashion wear has no fixed seats for the employees, they can choose to work from where they want to. They can either work on the cafeteria table or from the couch or working tables. The company COO Gourav Khetan says, “We don’t want our colleagues to be glued to desks, we are promoting a culture wherein team members have to walk to the other person and discuss the issue face-to-face, instead of sending emails or text messages. This works very well as most of the time team members walk down to discuss the issues with their colleagues, and being in India, the moment you go to someone’s desk they stand up.”

Taking short-walking breaks helps in increasing the blood circulation and can counteract some of the problems triggered by sitting on the desk.

"In view of the mounting evidence in favour of reduced sitting and increased standing, one can look for opportunities to stay active and keep moving throughout the day even at work. This may include, having "walking meetings" with colleagues at work, standing or walking around while on the phone, taking stairs instead of the elevator, setting an alarm on your computer to go off every hour and prompt you to move around for a minute or two, and most importantly swapping some television time with more active leisure activities”, adds Vandana.

So keep moving and be healthy and more productive at work.

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