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  • Writer's pictureOrina Ontiri

Sitting at a Desk All Day? (Do This Instead)

Ongoing research proving the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle has raised awareness that sitting too many hours regularly can adversely influence health and longevity.

Dr. James Levine, M.D., PhD., is an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic. He is also a research professor determined to reduce the epidemic of obesity and the diseases it causes in the United States. Dr. Levine’s position is that humans are designed to be mobile, not to sit or lie down for extended periods of time. His involvement in research that determined inactivity for long periods is hazardous to humans’ health is why he offers solutions for office workers, students and even patients who are normally required to sit, sit…and then sit some more.

What if your job’s requirements mean you must remain seated at a desk for four hours before lunch, followed by three or four more hours sitting in a desk chair? How can you overcome the very real hazards created by daily excessive sitting?

Regular exercise has many health benefits and is always encouraged, but it’s important to realize that heading for the gym or briskly walking after work and on weekends will not undo the harm to your health caused by hours of sitting at a desk (or in front of the TV, for that matter). The negative effects of extended sitting simply cannot be offset by periods of strenuous exercise.

The answer, then, is to incorporate standing, walking around, pacing or walking in place at your desk, plus other forms of physical, non-seated activity (a minute of dancing, perhaps) into your regular day. Standing at your desk for much of the time you’re working is the easy way to do it. But how can you stand and get your work accomplished if your hands are too far from the desktop and visibility is poor? In addition, how will your supervisor react to all that standing and moving if you work in an office with stringent rules about staying at your desk?

The phrase “standing desk” may cause you to visualize Ernest Hemingway standing at his high writing desk creating novels to enthrall generations of readers. Other well-known people worked at standing desks, including Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, Oscar Hammerstein II, and former U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Their standing-while-working habit may have seemed like an oddity…until now.

If you direct your supervisor to the results of the research about excessive sitting conducted by Dr. Levine and other scientists, you may find the facts described will help justify the proposed change to your boss. You see, part of their findings relate to the increased productivity, employee satisfaction, and improved health that standing/moving workers experienced in clinical trials. Reduced risk of obesity, type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer may improve life expectancy. Such positive outcomes are certainly worth giving this new work model a try.

What business would knowingly turn down enhanced productivity, reduced turnover, and lower expenses that are associated with employee illness—all factors that contribute to the bottom line? Management may decide to switch to standing desks for all office workers and honor you with an award for the idea!

Standing Desk

If you type “standing desk” into a search engine, numerous brands will pop up in the results, and many desks of this type are expensive. There are, however, less expensive options than the high-end or moderate specialty desks. Adjustable sitting-to-standing desktop risers can be fitted to the top of an existing desk at low cost. Risers sold by Varidesk range in price from $200 to $400 with space for one to two computer monitors, and some models include separate keyboard lifts. The Varidesk riser adjusts from sitting to standing (or in reverse) in only three seconds. This vendor also sells a cushioned standing mat for only $50.

That cushioned mat is a good low-cost accessory since unaccustomed standing may cause some discomfort in legs and feet until the body adjusts to the new routine. Women should also work in sensible low-heeled shoes while standing. (They can always keep a pair of high heels in a desk drawer for after-work activities.)

$450 or less should be an easy sell with evidence of positive benefits to employees and the company when the workplace fosters standing at work.

The sit-stand-move alternative is even more viable for individuals working at home. Add to the perks of working in your PJs and setting your own schedule, the freedom to decide the ergonomics of your workspace. Whether you choose some version of the standing desk or simply get up and move around frequently throughout your workday (or night), please reduce the total hours you sit daily.

You could add two years to your life.

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