This paper takes a thought provoking look at the modern workplace and how it can influence our personal energy systems. This paper suggests we need to “stand up and be counted” – as our sedentary work lifestyle of sitting at a desk is bad for us all, physically and mentally. Some have called this “sitting disease”, so employers should support it’s people to boost their energy systems and ergonomics by facilitating standing workstations; taking meetings or calls on the move; promoting physical exercise; and providing relaxation zones at work to re-charge our batteries.
“A growing body of evidence suggests that chair-living is lethal. Of concern is that for most people in the developed world chair-living is the norm.”
James Levine, a Mayo Clinic Endocrinologist
The paper suggests a number of changes which would positively impact our energy levels and performance as individuals, leading to greater personal and professional satisfaction, with positive impacts for employers as a result. In particular, the focus is on the physical and mental energy systems and how these could be improved by compensating for the sedentary lifestyles many of us lead, given the nature of our work environment: sitting at desks for long periods of time; staring at computer screens incessantly; working unsociable hours and having the feeling of being always on and always connected.
The motivation to write this paper came from two sources:
- The recent training workshops entitled “Fuel Your Energy“, held in Microsoft Ireland during Oct-Dec 2012, suggested we all need to maximize our energy systems to enable us to perform at our best, inside and outside of work. The concepts discussed covered four types of energy systems: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. I was amazed at how important our physiology, our environment, rest/sleep, nutrition, our posture, and exercise all are for our wellbeing and energy levels.
- As a keen runner, I take many principles of fitness, movement and physiology into consideration when thinking about how I can feel my best at work. I learned about the principles of “natural movement” at a 2 day running workshop in Ireland this summer. The core concept was that many running injuries are caused by the limits imposed by modern life as “zoo humans”: a sedentary lifestyle, lack of free movement, poor technique, etc. We are bipeds, so are physiologically designed to be on our feet, moving, not static in an office. How could we apply those concepts to mitigate the fact of life that we work in an office with a computer close by?
Sitting down is good right? Not so say studies
The common perception is that we need to converse our energy and take the weight off our back and legs. While that’s fine on the couch at home when resting, studies have shown there are many downsides to sitting down, leading to the term “sitting disease”. Some of the negative impacts include: a shorter average life span; heart disease risk; obesity; type 2 diabetes; poor digestion; loss of concentration.
“A desk-bound man or woman takes only 5,000 to 6,000 steps a day. That compares with about 18,000 steps a day for the average man and 14,000 for a woman in an Amish community.”
Strikingly, even regular exercise and a healthy diet don’t protect you – so going to the gym after work and eating carrot sticks can’t counteract the problems of the friendly chair. The key to combatting these possible effects is to burn energy. Exercise or movement even during our day jobs all contribute to burning energy, stimulating our minds, bodies, blood flow, muscles and hormones.
While it’s fanciful to think that we can all quit our day jobs working for a multinational and move to the countryside or go back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in terms of lifestyle, diet and manual labour – we can try to adapt our work environment if we know a little more about how we could combat the limitations of being “zoo humans”, trapped to some extent by the constraints of working in offices, being connected to phones, computers, devices of all sorts which require our attention.
Employers should encourage everyone to “stand up and be counted” in the following ways:
- Standing workstations: offer adjustable height desks and chairs (or medicine balls) to all employees so we can stimulate our bodies and minds through movement. It’s a legal/health requirement in some countries, e.g. Denmark, so let’s take the lead and promote their usage.
- Walk-and-talk meetings: promote the concept of “meeting on the move”, whether that’s meeting your manager while walking around the block or talking a call with your phone and headset in the fresh air (research shows you’ll think better).
- Stretching: take 1 minute every hour to stand up and stretch, improve your posture, aid circulation, clear your head. Don’t bring your phone with you!
- Spacious meeting rooms: offer a variety of meeting spaces, not just boardroom or roundtable type setup. Large open spaces with whiteboards to allow people stand, move, think – it all stimulates the brain and aids physical and mental energy.
- Relaxation room: each office building should have a chill out zone, where people can recharge their batteries during the day. No phones, no laptops, no screens, no email – disconnected from the world but 15 minutes of recovery/relaxation in silence or with soft music would really benefit our energy levels.
- Sports teams: promote the formation of company teams in a variety of sports across our various sites. Whether that’s cycling, a football team, a dance group or surfing.
- Lunchtime: awareness sessions on nutrition and how to eat healthier in our amazing canteen, but also stressing the importance of taking a lunch break – there are downsides (physical, mental, social) of eating lunch at your desk. Plus multi-tasking is less effective!
Change happens in small steps, but to make these changes stick you need to develop a habit. This involves repeating the task about 20 times to make it a sub-conscious habit which your brain adopts. So I encourage everyone to pick one change to make their lifestyle more active, follow it through for 3 weeks and you won’t even realize you’ve made a change. Stand up and be counted!
- James Levine, endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic, taken from USA Today http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/weightloss/2009-01-21-fidget-activity_N.htm
- “Run injury free workshop – learn to run better, not less”, organised by Champions Everywhere: http://www.championseverywhere.com/injuryfreerunning
- American Cancer Society study, taken from USA Today http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/weightloss/2009-01-21-fidget-activity_N.htm
- Kill Your Desk Chair—and Start Standing, Business Week, http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-06-28/kill-your-desk-chair-and-start-standing