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      Volume 11 |Issue 29| July 20, 2012 |


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Don't brag you did it in one sitting!

Shah Husain Imam

If common sense is most uncommon then something obvious can be the least noticed or felt. The first contradiction in terms is suffered in our civic and social lives with muted disdain. The second has had to wait for some research to startle us with a finding that for all our ignorance we should have known anyway.

Lanset Health News sourced in the USA and broadcast through BBC World Service recently revealed the virtues of a drastic cutback on the hours people spend sitting. The average sitting time for a modern citizen is a minimum of six hours. But such a habit is shaken to the core by a new study showing sitting "less than three hours a day might make us live an extra two years. And cutting TV viewing – which most of us do while sitting – to less than two hours every day might extend life by almost 1.4 years."

In other words, the hours we relieve our spines on a sofa or an office chair actually precipitate death and are at par with smoking and obesity.

That long sitting is harmful is very convincingly and unassailably argued: With a bulk of the body mass stuck to a seat for long hours means constricted or virtually halted blood supply to such a massive proportion of the human body. Just think of the slow paralysis you risk while sinking or cooping yourself in a comfortable upholstered chair or sofa at home.

Some may play down the finding by saying, well, if it is a choice between saving 3.4 years to life expectancy and sitting for long hours in comfort then they would prefer the latter to the former. Lazy lot they are!

Adding a few years to life is not all that there is to it, the issue is the quality of life. Apart from increased risk of diabetes and death from cancer, heart disease and stroke, prolonged sitting could cause breast and colon cancer as well.

Incorrigible smokers can never be short of excuses to continue to puff away. The research result has offered them a perfect pretext to continue smoking; they are ready for a trade-off between sitting a maximum of three hours and earning the right to smoke as they please.

The polished manner in which Obama, after lecturing to an anti-smoking campaign, admitted to being himself a smoker drew peals of laughter. But then it only underlined the irrepressibility of the habit which takes on different hues of explanatory excuses to salve one's guilty conscience. Or perhaps inhibition at the fact that even passive smoking does harm others.

While people keep sitting - anything between six and nine hours, how can you possibly manage sitting only three hours all day long? It is one of those must-do things we are better off not ignoring. Sedentary employees far outnumber manual workers. Office-goers who keep the administration and economy ticking put in six to eight hours a day. Among the long sitters are shopkeepers and transport drivers and long distance commuters.

The ordeal is the most excruciating for vehicle and car users who have to keep seated through the long traffic tailbacks adding three to four hours to the six-to-eight-hourly chair-sitting passivity at the office.

So how to get around the problem? Here are some tips, easy to offer but difficult to practice, unless these are integrated into work culture or habits. Disperse your three-hour sitting ration into hopping out of your seat; small bursts of limbering to the next phase or plainly going to meet your colleagues to say 'hello', is a PR dynamic worth the effort.

A stern health buff would stop at nothing short of counseling you to keep standing and flexing your limbs at convenient intervals.

Some modern offices place computers and telephone sets on high pedestals forcing you to stand to operate them.

At least giving reasonable breaks to sitting as much as is possible, even if it is not practical to expect keeping to a three-hour sitting regimen spread thin over 16 waking hours. The virtues of primitive living are increasingly dawning on the 'civilised' mind – that is the moral of the story.

The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.

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