OK, for those quasi-regular readers of this blog, and we know there are at least four of you out there, you’re already aware that many of our posts address how to effectively treat patients. What works. What doesn’t. What is known and what falls into the realm of the art of medicine.
Well, this post moves into poorly charted territory—how to help improve our own health. You know, “Physician, heal thyself” and all that. Why dwell on such irrelevant distractions, you may wonder. We each have many hundreds of ill patients who need our attention and expertise, so why digress into topics of physician health and well-being.
The reason for this amuse-bouche, in case you need to be reminded, is that physicians do need to maintain and hopefully augment their own health. And there is a simple way to do so. It is scientifically established. It requires no additional time during your already busy day. It is relatively low cost. And no exercise is required. Sounds either improbable or miraculous, right? Something you would hear about on late-night pay TV programming. Well the health-augmenting activity we all need to consider is standing. Yes, standing.
An increasing number of studies indicate that standing more, and sitting less, during one’s work day provides myriad health benefits. Among the proven or probable advantages of upright posture are less risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiac disease, and possibly cancer. More standing can increase your risk of living longer. A 2012 BMJ study showed that reducing one’s sitting time to less than 3 hours per day would increase the lifespan by 2 years. A 2010 paper in Circulation showed that each additional hour of sitting per day increased the risk of dying by 11% over the seven period of study.
The health risks of too much sitting are not overcome by regular exercise. Exercise has its own benefits of course, and combining exercise with more standing during the day is a great way to boost one’s health.
An easy way to increase one’s standing time is switching to a standing desk. While still uncommon, these handy items of office furniture are becoming more readily available. Instead of sitting in your office for hours doing data entry into the electronic medical record, why not do so while standing? See if your office manager will agree to spring for a standing desk. Alternatively, you can jury-rig one up yourself with some wooden crates or a couple of stacks of medical journals. (Remember the old days, when journals were actually made out of paper? And came by snail mail?) Caution is advised if you are attempting to create an artificial standing desk, though, since tragedy may strike if a poorly balanced monitor were to tumble onto your right great toe, necessitating an ED visit and contravening the intended goal of this project. Yes, better to convince your office manager that you can see more patients per day and have improved quality outcomes by using a standing desk.
One disclaimer—all surgeons are exempted from the need to use a standing desk. Since you already spend so much of your workday standing, feel free to perform your data entry in a sitting position.
In case you have misgivings about trying to implement this self-improvement project, remember that physician health is not a non sequitur.
Actually, the advice contained in this posting may be passed on to patients also. It is not one of the proprietary secrets we avoid revealing to the lay public.
Richard Fleming, MD