The Art of Standing Up

As a nation, we don’t much like standing up it seems. As a parent, I have spent the last couple of years perfecting this long forgotten art. Other parents will know how it feels, to get to lunchtime and think ‘I haven’t sat down yet this morning’ (or if you’re having a particularly difficult day then it won’t be till the post lunch nap when you finally get to rest your feet). But why is this really such a big deal?

Why this addiction with sitting down? Going back again to being a parent, I don’t see my two year old desperate to take a seat. Exactly the opposite in fact. Currently, trying to get him to sit still long enough to eat a meal is challenge enough. Similarly, my 9 month old would rather rub his cracker into the carpet whilst trying to crawl than sit still and eat it. Hence the use of that age old restraining device: the high chair.

And fair enough really. After all, humans aren’t meant to be sedentary beings. We are meant to be active. But somehow over the past century, we have evolved into animals that spend the majority of our waking lives sitting. Sitting at work. Sitting to eat. Sitting to relax. Sitting to travel. Can this really be good for us? Is sitting down really now the smoking of our time?

For those non-parents out there, who are still stuck sitting in an office all day, the wave of realisation that standing isn’t so bad after all is gradually washing through. Standing desks have been around for a while now it seems, although seemingly in trendier circles than I tend to frequent. I’m slightly confused as to why it is trendy to stand, but not upset as that can only be a good thing. And Ikea have recently saved the day, by making it reasonably affordable to the masses, with their new Bekant desk. The issue unfortunately is, however, that standing still isn’t really all that great for you either. You need to be moving – and the standing moving desk hasn’t yet been developed (unless you count the iPad…)

A recent watch (whilst sitting down I hasten to add) of the ‘The Mekong River with Sue Perkins’ on BBC2 reminded me that this is a phenomenon very much confined to the developed world. Head over to, for example, Vietnam or Cambodia, and you will find people spending their whole day mobile and on their feet farming the fields or picking rice by hand. They deserve to sit down and rest at the end of the day. These people must think us mad, and many Africans I’m sure do, that we run FOR FUN. Yes, we don’t have to, there is no financial reward, we just do it for the love of it! I must admit that there are many things that I love about running, but ultimately the main reason I can and do run is because I have the excess energy to be able to. And I can therefore understand how this must seem like a very odd hobby to people who aren’t as lucky as us to have that spare energy to burn.

We are not meant to be sedentary. Yet the developed world has made us so. And so on top of plain and simple walking, we run, or go to the gym, or perhaps cycle or swim, or just walk some more. Of course, we don’t just do these things to get on our feet and be mostandingbile. There are other benefits. But ultimately it’s having the energy to be able to do these things that drives us to start them. And, yes, from there it might turn into a fun social hobby, or just a chance to get some fresh air and see the sights, or to chill out listening to music or the latest podcast. The point is, if you’d been out picking rice all day in the paddy fields, you’d probably choose another hobby. Most likely one that involved sitting down.

The key thing is that it might not be too bad to sit down once in a while, but everything needs to be in moderation. It’s better to be on your feet, and even better to be moving too. We are immensely lucky that, as a nation, our current biggest health crisis is simply obesity. Seriously. This should not be a big deal. Of course, I know I’m talking to the wrong people here, as readers of this blog are, I hope, not the sort to be struggling to get on their feet. But I’m sure many of you still spend a good proportion of the day sitting down too. Maybe you could reduce that a bit.

Sit down, yes. But not all the time. Get a standing desk if you want to. Go for a run. Walk or cycle instead of taking the bus. And for goodness sake, please use the stairs instead of the lift!

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