Move to Improve Mental Health

Human beings are meant to move.

The research points to this conclusion, and we’ve made it our credo. When they hear this idea most people think the goal is to be healthy and fit, to drop a few pounds and improve our athleticism. While these are important aspects, an equally important but often overlooked issue is the effect that lack of movement has on our mental health. We aren’t just meant to move, we are evolutionarily inclined to do it very frequently!

Studies that have been done on modern day hunter gatherer societies have found that they walk between 4-10 miles per day, on average. That’s just the amount of time they spent walking from place to place, and doesn’t include the more strenuous work they did to hunt for food, build shelter, or any other such tasks. This is the level of activity that human beings are used to. Yet for those of us who drive to work, sit at a desk all day, sit down for lunch, and drive home at night…we’re lucky if we even get 1 mile of walking in.

Many people talk about how much better they feel after a good workout, or how it’s a great way to unwind after a stressful day. We talk about it as if it’s simply a good way to blow off steam, but the truth is this is actually the result of evolutionary biology. Not only that, but lack of movement can actually cause increased levels of stress!

In 2015, the peer reviewed open access journal BioMed Central conducted a systematic review of 9 different studies investigating this issue. They found that as time spent engaging in sedentary behavior increased, a persons risk of anxiety increased as well1.

Meanwhile, in one 7 week study employees using standing desks reported less stress and fatigue than their seated counterparts. Additionally, 87% of those using standing desks reported increased vigor and energy throughout the day. Yet upon returning to their old desks, employees moods reverted to their original levels!2

But the negative effects aren’t limited to stress and anxiety.

The British Journal of Sports Medicine conducted a quantitative summary of 13 different studies including a total of 110,152 participants. It found that participants with the highest amounts of sedentary behavior had a 25% higher risk of depression than those with the lowest amounts of sedentary behavior!

This should hardly be surprising, people have extolled the physical and mental benefits of walking for ages. Paul Dudley White once stated that “A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world”. Paul Dudley White was one of the leading cardiologists of his day, a Harvard professor, one of the founders of the American Heart Association, and a staunch advocate in preventative medicine.

Now, taking a rigorous five mile walk while working at a desk isn’t exactly plausible. While there is always the option of using a treadmill desk, they are incredibly large, expensive, and outfitting an entire office with them would be a logistical nightmare. Additionally, walking or running on a treadmill is nowhere near as beneficial as simply walking outside3.

As we said in our last email, it’s incredibly unlikely that this issue will resolve itself. For better or worse, a situation where people begin moving away from sedentary desk jobs and back towards manual physical labor jobs is a highly unlikely one. But the vast majority of the issues discussed so far can be resolved with one of our standing desks.

But you needn’t just take our word for it. Most of us know at least one person who’s taken the plunge on their own to switch to a standing desk. Reach out and ask them not just how they feel physically, but the effect standing has had on their mood and how they think and feel. One of the most surprising effects of standing at work that people report is how much happier they are at the end of an average work day!

By now, the benefits to your employees of providing standing options should be obvious, and how those can provide tangential benefits to your business. But the business benefits are even more profound than they appear at a glance, which is what we’ll look at in the next part of our course.

Until then!

-Brandon

1Extensive sedentary time linked to increased anxiety - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26088005

2Standing linked to reduced stress and fatigue - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23057991

3We’ll explore this subject in depth in a future article, but here’s a quick summary: when you’re walking normally, your legs have to apply enough force to the ground to propel the weight of your entire body forward. When you’re moving on a treadmill your entire upper body stays still, while your legs pump back and forth. This is the main reason why people who practice running on a treadmill then switch to running outside find they’re not able to run anywhere near as fast or as far.