Why You Should Stand For Four Hours of Your Workday

For those of us who sit at a desk for eight or more hours a day, the idea of standing for four of those sounds near on impossible. But according to the UK government health body, this is the goal that we should be aiming for.

If you are lucky enough to work in a company that understands the importance of having office space that encourages movement or you live in Sweden, where approximately 90% of desk-based workers have standing desks, then you may well be on your way to hitting this target. However, for those of us who spend the majority of our time in offices with rows upon rows of seated desks, some help might be needed. I work in a busy PR office and spend most of the day sat at my desk or sat in a meeting. I definitely need some help.

Recent guidance from Public Health England has advised that we should be standing and conducting light exercise for at least two hours daily, with the aim of increasing this to four hours. The reason is that there is increasing evidence to show that a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers. Scientists were onto this in the 1950s when they found that bus drivers (who sit down for the majority of their shift) were more likely to develop heart disease than bus conductors (who stand for the majority of their shift). It has also been shown that standing helps with posture, strength, productivity, creativity and lower back pain.

So while we are at work why do we still spend most of the day on our bums rather than our feet? Well, it’s just the normal thing to do and whilst I have read about how you can increase standing and light activity in the office, excuses for why I can’t integrate them into my normal working day can be easily made:

1. Using the stairs instead of the lift — I am usually late so the lift provides a few extra valuable minutes in my day plus, the mirror is very handy for checking that hair and make-up haven’t gone awry on the walk to the office

2. Walk 15 minutes during your lunch — this is the amount of time I need to scoff a soggy tuna sarnie before having to get back to the ever expanding inbox

3. Walk and talk meetings / walk while on the phone — I know we are supposed to be able to multitask but walking, talking and taking notes is just not in my skill set

4. Get a stand up desk — there are only two available for an office of 100 people, but I’m on the waiting list!

5. Stand up during meetings — unfortunately I’m struggling to find a good excuse for this one

Meetings are a fact of working life. Some are necessary and some are not but there is no denying that we have a lot of them. If not policed correctly they can be long, unfocused and unproductive. So could encouraging standing in meetings not only be better for our health but also for our productivity?

As I mentioned earlier, if you have a meeting the normal thing to do is to go into the meeting room and sit down. If you went into your next team meeting and stood up while everyone took a seat there may be an expectation that you are presenting or had a big announcement to make. Why do we save standing up for these ‘special occasions’? Standing is associated with confidence and purpose and may be seen as a bit over the top for the normal run of the mill team catch up but what is wrong with going through your actions with confidence and purpose!

Standing meeting might also be able to help with time management. We’ve all been in those unfocused hour long meetings that you wish would end so you could get on with actual work. Although, sometimes we are happy to sit and waste a bit of time so you can continue putting off starting that report you should have started a week ago. However, if you were short of time and you needed the meeting to be quick, would you choose to sit or stand? I think most of us would choose to stand.

Companies who use the ‘agile’ methodology as an alternative to traditional project management have 15-minute regular stand up meetings every morning. Traditionally it is kept to 15 minutes and held in a space where there are no chairs (or they are pushed to the side) so people remain focused. I like the simplicity of this set up and think these basic principles can be easily applied to our everyday meetings.

We may all think that we can’t change our work environment, which for many is true but we can choose how to use the space we have. A good question to ask yourself and the team when you walk into a meeting room is, ‘Do we need to be sat down for this?’ and more often than not the answer will be no. However, making a change to our daily routines and going against social norms is difficult. Excuses can be made and targets avoided but we cannot avoid the truth that our sedentary lifestyle is impacting our health. We must give more consideration to how we stand and move more every day. Encouraging people to stand during meetings is definitely not the only answer but taking small steps like this could not only benefit our health but also make our working day that little bit more productive.