The human body is designed to move; our joints, ligaments, organ systems, and skeleton all rely on physical activity in order to function properly. Although sitting may be beneficial for short durations to allow the body to rest, sitting for extended periods – as many office workers must do – is fundamentally denigrating to health. Sitting puts abnormal amounts of pressure on areas of the body not designed to withstand this pressure over longer periods: the legs for instance, whilst sitting, are compressed, narrowing the blood vessels, and reducing blood flow.
Consequently, the limbs are starved of the oxygen and glucose they need to function; and waste substances, such as carbon dioxide, cannot effectively leave the body. The spine, further, usually curves when in seat, straining the surrounding muscles and ligaments; after extended periods of time, this can cause irreparable damage to the back. The combination of low oxygen levels, compressed blood vessels, and unnatural amounts of pressure in areas of the body, leads to a host of ailments.
Long-term health is deeply affected by sedentism: sitting times are correlated with all-cause mortality – sitting can, in other words, literally lead to an early death. Should modern offices – whose staff are made to sit all day – be to blame? In short, no.
Arguably, mitigating the illnesses and conditions associated with physical inactivity ought to be a personal responsibility. However, the mortality directly associated with sedentary lifestyles is, independently associated with sitting times, regardless of how much exercise is done outside of work. Large amounts of physical movement completed intermittently in leisure time cannot, therefore, be an antidote to sedentary lifestyles – physical activity, must, instead, be integrated into the entire day. This does not mean that office spaces must offer physical activity programmes in the daily work regime; the answer is much simpler.
One proposed – and very promising – option is simply switching traditional sitting desks with an adjustable standing desk. Standing immediately eliminates some issues with extended sitting – namely, issues with circulation, blood flow, and the unnatural straining of the body. This alone can boast an array of benefits: since blood flow is markedly better than when sat down, cognition increases because the brain enjoys more nutrients and oxygen. To illustrate this further, although it is more cognitively taxing to stand than it is to sit, attentional engagement actually increases whilst working at a stand desk rather than a traditional seated one.
A further, and perhaps a more important health benefit of the standing desk, is the association between standing and reductions in Body Mass Index (BMI). It was found that standing – as opposed to sitting – in the classroom, increased caloric expenditure by a statistically significant degree. Considering standing does not, as evidence suggest, increase food consumption like other forms of physical exertion do, standing desks could benefit health by working in favour of both sides of the calorie equation (calories in and calories out) to help reduce body fat. In light of the obesity pandemic plaguing industrialized nations, standing desks ought to be considered to mitigate this disease, and, therefore, promote holistic health.
Less obviously, standing desks offer significant advantages to health because they promote proper breathing. Breathing is one area which is often overlooked in modern healthcare, despite the rich history of breathing techniques in ancient healthcare structures. A deep dive into breathing reveals how vital proper breathing is for holistic wellbeing. Whilst sat down, the chest cavity collapses – the lungs simply do not have enough space to expand fully; improper breathing, alarmingly, can contribute to issues with sleeping, daytime fatigue, an inability to learn, and, more generally, a decreased quality of life. As culture homogenises, and traditional societies transition to modern lifestyles, the diseases of modernity – of which sedentism plays a major contributing role – become increasingly threatening to global health. Standing desks may seem simple, and they are, but their benefits to health are undeniably potent. If businesses want to provide the means for their employees to live prosperous and healthy lives – which is, of course, in their best interests – then standing desks should be considered as a viable option to promote wellbeing and longevity.
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