I was pleasantly surprised when my daughter told me about the working environment in her new job. Apparently they were strictly told that they could not eat their lunch at their desk and had to take a compulsory half hour break for lunch (however urgent the job at hand was). They had to take a walk to the dining or restaurant area and have their lunch with friends or co-workers. Yet another ‘diktat’ was that they had to get up once every 15 or 30 minutes and take ‘micro breaks’. I think this is really needed for our young professionals working in the IT sector where they keep sitting in front of the terminal for long hours.
A typical Indian home, some 75 to 100 years ago, had very little furniture. No sofas, no dining tables and chairs or cots. Sofas you could sink into and never want to get up is still not so common in most of our homes. This is slowly changing and people now aspire to have one of those sofas you can drown into, and perhaps read a book or watch TV.
If you are one of those who love to sit and never get up, perhaps you need to change your ‘mobility’ habits. Dr Joan Vernikos, former Director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division and author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals presents a well reasoned argument for why you need to interrupt your sitting every now and then.
In a typical Indian home of yesteryears, most people would be moving about doing some household chore—sweeping or swabbing or grinding or supervising the maids. This held true for both men and women, young and the old. Only invalids or the very sick would be inactive for long hours at a stretch. Today with the TV and the remote, people get into a comfortable sitting posture and ‘relax’ after having spent long hours sitting in their office.
Dr Joan Vernikos was one of the doctors who was responsible for overseeing the health of astronauts in space. When you live in a gravity-free environment there is apparently a 10-fold acceleration of the aging process. So when you are sick and keep lying down and refuse to get up, you age faster. Dr Vernikos says, “...that gravity plays a big role in our physiological function and in the aging process.”
She further adds, “We were designed to squat, we were designed to kneel. Sitting is okay, but it is uninterrupted sitting that is bad for us. We are not designed to sit continuously. We are not designed to be in quasi microgravity...It is not how many hours of sitting that’s bad for you; it is how often you interrupt that sitting that is good for you. Standing continuously however, is again not good for you.” What you need to do according to Dr Vernikos is to stand up often and to keep interrupting your sitting. This advice is important for even those who regularly exercise.
Today, we try to arrange our workplace in a manner that requires minimum movement. The stationery items are all arranged within hand’s reach, the telephone is in your pocket, the printer can be accessed with a swivel of your chair making it unnecessary for you to get up. If you want to remain healthy and have less aches and pains, get up and get a glass of water. Don’t have that tea served at your desk. Don’t call up your colleague who is two cubicles away. Walk up to her and sort out the issue. Make getting up every 15 to 30 minutes a habit. In the beginning if you forget, use an online timer. I haven’t checked, but there must be an application which probably says “Time to get up”. If there isn’t one, here is your opportunity to make some megabucks!
The writer was earlier Health Secretary, Tamil Nadu, and is currently Additional Chief Secretary, and Chairman and MD, Tamil Nadu Handicrafts Development Corporation. She can be reached at Sheelarani.email@example.com.