You may (not) want to be sitting down to read this

By-and-by, engineers tend to spend a fair amount of time sitting down. Whether that be through working at a desk, sitting in a meeting, or travelling, it can accumulate to a significant proportion of your week. (Not to mention time spent sat down in leisure hours). You may be surprised to hear that this is not a good thing; sitting down all day slows your metabolism, can be bad for your back, and is linked with earlier mortality. Put simply, the more proportion of your time spent sitting, the slower you will work and the earlier you will die. Many people assume that taking regular breaks and getting exercise outside of work hours negates the effects of sitting all day, but unfortunately that is not the case.

This stems from the simple fact that homo sapiens are not engineered (I’m not going to start a debate on creationism/evolution, so you can take that as meaning any one of the following: theological creationism, guided evolution, natural selection, aliens from the planet zorg, or any one of the proposed mechanisms that describe how we got to where we are…) to sit for prolonged periods of time. We are hunter gatherers, designed to be up and on the move. I.e. dynamic creatures not sedentary PowerPoint jockeys. When sitting, our structure (skeleton, muscles, tendons and ligaments), adopts an unnatural posture, placing stresses into our body that we were never designed for. Worse still, our muscles and ligaments become used to this posture, which in turn can lead to a whole series of knock on problems. To me, as a reliability engineer, this sounds like the classic tale of customers returning products with new, previously unforeseen failure modes, that can only be attributed to it being used for something it was never intended for… (not covered by many warranties!)

Over the last few years, there has been a surge in the number of people choosing to stand whilst working, but like all good ‘modern trends’, this is really nothing new. Standing desks were more popular in the 18th and 19th century. They could be found in homes, schools, & offices, until they disappeared almost overnight. Notable users include Thomas Jefferson, Charles Darwin, Winston Churchill and until this day, Donald Rumsfeld. Like many of the older workstations, many of the modern interpretations include the flexibility to change from sitting to standing (or even perching) to encourage variety. Like seemingly everything moderation is the key so I don’t mean to promote standing still in one spot all day!

I’m acutely aware of the downsides of sitting down as years of silly sports (apparently we are not engineered to be front row forwards either) have left me unable to sit comfortably for very long at a time, so I am in the process of getting a new standing desk in my workplace. I foresee the changeover to be ‘interesting’, and for some of my colleagues to be confused, but I’ll let you all know how I get on!