Take the load on your feet

Updated: 2013-09-18 07:49

By Liu Zhihua (China Daily)

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Office workers need to spend less time sitting and more time standing, a growing chorus of experts tells Liu Zhihua.

Sitting kills. Many studies have showed a sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for many health conditions, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and obesity. A more recent study over a 14-year period by the American Cancer Society finds that women who sat for more than six hours a day were about 40 percent more likely to die during the course of the study than those who sat fewer than three hours a day. Men were about 20 percent more likely to die, according to the study. Fortunately, it seems that people are becoming aware of the health risks of extended period of sitting. Some have already adopted healthier poses for work.

Meng Qingguang, 26, founder of a startup IT company in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, no longer sits at work all the time.

Instead, he spends about four hours a day standing while at work: two hours in the morning and the other two in the afternoon.

Take the load on your feet

"It feels good to stand at work," Meng says, adding that he usually stands for an hour after sitting for similar amount of time.

"Working in the IT industry requires a lot of time sitting before a computer. After a couple of years, you always feel there is something wrong with your body."

Meng has been in the industry for four years, and he notices that senior coders, most of them in their 40s, always seem to have severe occupational health issues, such as indigestion, cervical spondylosis and hemorrhoids.

For Meng, avoiding hemorrhoids and indigestion is all the motivation he needs to stand up at work. He feels better now, he says.

Take the load on your feet

"Our body is not made to sit long," says Qi Qiang, a senior orthopedist with Peking University Third Hospital.

"When you sit, you put immense pressure on the spine. But when you stand up, the pressure will be reduced, and when you lie down, the pressure is the lightest."

Under consistent pressure from sitting, bones, muscles and related nerves will get pressed, strained and even dislocated, causing mild to severe symptoms, including back pain and numbness in limbs, Qi explains.

The cervical and lumbar vertebrae are the most vulnerable spine parts for people who sit for long hours, Qi adds.

"The damage is subtle but it adds up in every second, and such damage can accumulate to a very harmful and even life-threatening level," Qi says.

"It is important to stand up and be active from time to time."

Guo Xiaohui, director of the endocrinology department with Peking University First Hospital, agrees.

Different positions and actions use different muscle groups. When people sit, some muscle groups are relaxed, while others are moving and in use, Guo says.

Guo suggests vanity as well as health should inspire a change in posture. If people keep sitting, he says, some muscles are continuously strained and become damaged, while more others are not getting any exercise - resulting in an expanding waistline and bigger butt.

Besides, when people sit for long hours, especially when they are under stress, the endocrine system is also under stress and will produce "bad" hormones that can lead to fat accumulation and blood vessels inflammation, Guo says. "You cannot stay motionless and stay healthy."

Guo warns that either standing or sitting, if done for too long, is harmful. One method to avoid stress and injury caused by remaining too long in one position, Guo suggests, is sitting on a yoga ball.

Shen Yiren, a marketing staff member in a Shenzhen-based company, has been sitting on yoga balls while working since late 2011.

Take the load on your feet

He used to feel discomfort in his neck and waist, as well as his shoulders, but now those problems have minimized, Shen says.

The yoga-ball option, he says, is more convenient than standing up, and because of the ball's instability, your awareness is elevated.

"It usually is hard to remember to stand up or take a stroll, especially when you are so busy with work," Shen says. "With a yoga ball, there is no such problem."

Guo also warns it is not wise to sit on a yoga ball during intensive work, because absence of mind may bring about accidents and injury.

While some people have become aware of the health risks posed by sitting long hours at work, for most people, the practice seems justified and still dominates in China.

Samson Mo, a Chinese-Canadian working in Shanghai, says he has planned to use a standing desk, but failed to get one in a fitness-equipment store. In his hometown of Vancouver, standing desks and treadmills had already become quite popular in offices as early as in 2007, Mo says.

Options in China are limited, as most people find it natural or convenient to sit for extended hours day after day.

Meng Qingguang, the IT company founder, says when he wanted to buy a standing desk, he found the options either too pricey or of bad quality.

Instead, Meng positions a small table on his working desk, and when he wants to stand up, he puts the computer onto the small table.

"I just hope more people and companies in China will realize the fact that sitting too long is bad, and it is time to change," he says.

Contact the writer at liuzhihua@chinadaily.com.cn.

Take the load on your feet

(China Daily 09/18/2013 page19)