The first piece of furniture that a person buys on moving out of home is a bed. Eventually, as they grow more affluent, they buy tables and then chairs. At the point when someone can afford to buy chairs, they become more welcoming of guests.
When it is just friends and age mates, or even their mother visiting, some fuss is made. But the day their father visits, there better be one chair that he will sit on. In some traditions, when a man moved out of his father’s home to start his own home he left with a stool, a cockerel and an axe, the essentials one needed.
But it was only one stool, his own because his father, who’s home he had just left, would also have just the one stool. In such cultures, a man would spend most of his time around his home. On the occasions when required to make an official visit somewhere, he would carry his stool with him. If he was an elder, then a boy would be employed to carry the stool ahead of him.
Towards sundown a return trip home would ensure the stool did not sleep out of its home. The stool therefore symbolised status, with the rest of the population sitting either on the floor or on benches. This tradition continues today, you will see that the president has a special chair whenever he meets others and lower down the pecking order any chairman sits on a chair that is a little taller or more ornate than the others. It is the chair who grants permission to the lesser persons to sit around him or her.
The problem for our health is one that arises out a modest success of public policy. Two factors that greatly influence improved health are at play. The first is rising income levels, which means more people can afford to buy chairs. Only the very poor or the super rich will not have at least one cheap tacky polypropylene plastic chair in their home. Secondly we no longer have such a rigid hierarchical society where some people would never dream of sitting on a chair or stool.
Today it is an entitlement to have a chair; the degree of chair may differ but even children feel that they should have a chair to sit on. These two factors have combined with a third factor where work is no longer designed with movement in mind. Indeed much of organisational design at the workplace and even at home is done to minimise movement. Advances in chair design are to have ergonomic chairs that are more comfortable for your back; the sofa, a combination of a bench, bed and stool can swallow you for hours on end. Rather than sitting serving a function as happened when you had to carry your own stool, today it is an end in itself with clear health consequences.
Various studies have been done on the health effects of sitting. One study found that when a person sits for six straight hours, the average time people spend in their offices; blood flow in their arms and legs were greatly reduced. When absorbed in work, it is easy to loose track of time. However, ten minutes of walking reversed the ill effects in the legs but for the arms more vigorous exercise was needed. Problem is, many of us do not even manage a ten minute walk in a day. Worse, over the long term, prolonged sitting every day is associated with development of ill health no matter the physical activity done.
That is even if you sit all day then work out in the gym three times a week you are still at risk of developing diseases like type two diabetes and hypertension. People in rural areas, farm workers spend a lot of time on their feet, not necessarily doing vigorous exercise and they end up having less risk of developing disease and burn more calories a day. The moment they buy a TV and sofa the protective effects of standing, walking all day disappears because now they spend three to four hours watching TV. That is why you should pity highway traffic police who stand all day long ensuring that our roads are safe. With some of the money they earn they buy TVs and sofas. If they are corrupt then it is even worse because their stress levels are high.
The solution is to reimagine the workplace to ensure that people are more active all hours of the day. Meetings should not be three hour sit downs with no movement at all. We may laugh at the person on their cell phone, who paces about the place when on a call, but the person who walks up and down the stairs when answering a call may not be trying to hide something, maybe they just want to stay healthy.