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The Sitting Disease: It's Time To Stand Up For Our Health

16/12/2015 8:06 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Sedentary lifestyles and increased stress at work are clearly taking a toll on our bodies and minds. All around me I see people who are tired and look like they haven't had a good night's sleep in days. Then there are those who can't stop fussing over their health - either looking for weight-loss shortcuts (an online search for "how to lose weight" throws up close to a hundred million results), or poring over the latest diet book, or desperately trying to make time for a workout, usually ignoring what the most basic problem: the amount of time they spend sitting down.

While most of us are aware of the perils of a sedentary lifestyle, how many realise that prolonged sitting is the new smoking? I remember watching author Nilofer Merchant's TED Talk video where she says, "Sitting is so incredibly prevalent, we don't even question how much we're doing it, and because everyone else is doing it, it doesn't even occur to us that it's not okay." It made me get up and wonder about my own health.

[B]y standing for two hours a day for a year one can lose more than 25,000 calories (that is running at least six marathons), or nearly 3kg.

Studies will tell you that people who sit for six-seven hours every day, and have what is called the "sitting disease", are at an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and shorter life spans as well as becoming overweight, even if they exercise. Whether it is the time spent in driving, sitting at work, or watching television, it adds up. This "sitting disease" tends to spread like a virus. "Physical Inactivity Epidemic", a report supporting US First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! Campaign, reveals that parents tend to transfer a sedentary lifestyle to children, much like a contagious disease. Just imagine the long-term consequences of that!

The risk of lifestyle-related diseases can be cut down by standing for at least one-fourth of the day, observes research by the American Cancer Society in collaboration with The Cooper Institute, the University of Texas and the University of Georgia.

Research by our R&D department corroborates findings that reducing sitting time and standing for an hour can help burn approximately 50 extra kilocalories. So by standing for two hours a day for a year one can lose more than 25,000 calories (that is running at least six marathons), or nearly 3kg.

At home, be more active. Spend time outdoors with your children instead of being a couch potato.

Leonardo da Vinci, Ernest Hemingway and Charles Dickens may have set this off eons ago, but slowly and steadily, people are taking note. Admiral RK Dhowan, the current Chief of Naval Staff of the Indian Navy, uses a customised 'standing' desk throughout his day in office. I found online that Rohin Dharmakumar, a young mobile startup entrepreneur switched to a standing desk on account of a weak back and subsequently ended up making it himself at a fraction of what an imported desk would have cost him. And as recent as October, news reports suggest that the White House is spending as much as $700,000 (Rs 4.6 crore) for "height adjustable standing desktops and accessories". If that isn't leading by example, what is?

I think it is our collective duty to encourage a culture where people are more active through the day, whether it's walking while taking phone calls or doing meetings, walking up to the coffee machine, or walking over to their colleagues to say him instead of just picking up the phone. At home, be more active. Spend time outdoors with your children instead of being a couch potato.

As Anne Wilson Schaef once said, "Good health is not something we can buy. However, it can be an extremely valuable savings account." To my mind that deserves a standing ovation.

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