Why doctors are now warning that sitting is the new smoking
SEE ALSO :Ministry to employ 5,700 new medicsThose prolonged periods of inactivity increase our risk of obesity, but they also cause a staggering list of other conditions. This includes heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, muscular and back issues, deep vein thrombosis, brittle bones, depression and even dementia. Experts are now describing sitting as ‘the new smoking’, a ticking time bomb of ill health just waiting to explode. The World Health Organization has already identified physical inactivity as the fourth biggest killer on the planet, ahead of obesity. It now costs the UK economy more than Kenya Shillings 145 billion every year in sick days due to back, neck and muscle problems and that figure is still rising. A new campaign, Get Britain Standing, aims to get the nation back on its feet and help turn back the rising tide of ill health that is caused by spending too much time sitting down. Gavin Bradley, director of Get Britain Standing, says: “It’s like smoking during the 1970s and passive smoking during the 90s. We all know a sedentary lifestyle is bad for us, we just don’t realize how bad it is. Spending less time sitting down really can add years to your life. That is the most important message. “Unfortunately, it also seems to be the hardest one for people to believe.’’
SEE ALSO :County to recruit 16 special doctors“The human race didn’t evolve to spend so much time sitting down,” he says. “Up until relatively recently we spent much of our time moving around.” What’s the evidence? A study of bus drivers and conductors carried out by Transport for London In the 1950s provides stark evidence of the dangers of spending too much time sitting down. It found that drivers, who spend more of their time sitting, were 1.5 times as likely to develop heart disease as conductors, who stood more often. That evidence has convinced the British Heart Foundation that physical inactivity is an issue that needs to be tackled, particularly as heart disease remains the biggest killer in the UK, claiming 160,000 lives per year. Dr Mike Napton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, says getting people on their feet is a key priority for the charity, as many patients report simply feeling better when they are more active. It can prevent and alleviate back problems, which are commonly caused by spending too much time sitting or sitting with poor posture. As well as the physical benefits there are less-tangible rewards. Many people notice their mood improves, they can think more clearly and they have a general sense of well-being. “If you could put that in a bottle people would pay a lot of money for it,” says Dr Napton. “If you want to put that into activity levels, it would be the equivalent of running about 10 marathons a year, just by standing up three or four hours in your day at work.’’ Taking a stand at work The benefits of standing instead of spending so much time sitting are finally starting to catch on. Just last month, Victoria Beckham was photographed walking while working after swapping her office chair for a treadmill desk. Such luxuries are not for everyone. A treadmill desk typically costs between Kenya shillings 217,500 and 435,000 and is not suitable for all office workers. Adjustable sit-stand desks that allow workers to alter the height and work while sitting down or standing up offer a more practical solution. Standing desks are already much more common in Scandinavia, where staff have the right to work standing up. In this country, they are usually seen as treatment tools for patients who already suffer from back problems, rather than a way to prevent issues in later life. Get Britain Standing aims to change that. Bradley has a vision that within 20 years more than 20% of the workforce – one in five staff – will spend more of their day working at a standing desk. Not only would that make them happier and healthier, it would make them more productive, too. Bradley hopes that will convince more bosses to support the scheme and provide sit-stand desks for staff. “Winston Churchill used to stand at his desk,’’ says Bradley. “That’s not a bad example to follow. We are more positive, more alert and more task-driven when we are standing. “We want to reach the stage where it is seen as irresponsible not to offer your staff a standing work station, not just from a health and safety perspective, but from a management and productivity perspective. “After all, it’s only in the last 40 years or so that computers and televisions have increased the amount of time we spend sitting down.” Time to make a change There is still some way to go before the UK follows the Scandanavian lead on workers’ rights to sit and stand. There are currently no firm guidelines for bosses, though the Health and Safety Executive does suggest allowing seated workers to move around every so often to avoid discomfort or long-term health problems. Convincing firms, schools and families to act will play a vital role in creating a more active lifestyle. But the benefits of standing apply across all age groups and parents could help their children by limiting the time infants spend restrained in buggies and car seats. The need for exercise remains crucial in later life and pensioners can help keep their bones and muscles strong by standing up and moving around regularly.
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