Sitting Takes a Bum Rap, Called The New Smoking

Julie Shenkman
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Sitting at work may contribute to detrimental health effects such as metabolic syndrome or even obesity. Some researchers and advocates even call sitting "the new smoking." One company challenges the notion that sitting is bad and, instead, explains a lack of movement at work causes health difficulties.

Jim Kidd of Humanscale, an ergonomic furniture manufacturer, believes standing for 15 minutes for every hour of an eight-hour workday improves weight control, cardiovascular health and even productivity at the office. Standing can be done with work exercises, simple stretches or an entire culture of work where management mandates movement.

Instead of sitting at work for eight hours, consider walking meetings instead of gathering at a conference room table. Take the stairs down one floor as opposed to hopping on an elevator. Park farther away, and walk to the front door. Try eating in a different location than in your cubicle by walking to the break room, cafeteria or nearby deli.

Sitting at work sends the wrong biochemical message to your body, notes scientist James Levine of the Mayo Clinic. Sitting for extended periods prevents the body from breaking down fats and sugars properly. Standing speeds up the metabolic process and leads to better overall health.

Levine's original study claims sitting at work is bad. However, safety and wellness experts have altered the initial assertions to conclude "excessive" sitting or standing at the workplace may cause adverse health effects. The key to prevent these health maladies is to vary your work routine throughout the day. A simple tactic comes from having a central printer location in one building, instead of on every floor, so employees have to walk farther to retrieve paper documents.

Try some easy work exercises that relieve stress and get the blood pumping. Rotate your neck 360 degrees by holding your chin in one of four positions for 30 seconds each – look up, right, down and left in succession to stretch tired neck muscles. Stretch your legs by bending one leg upward at the knee, grabbing that ankle and holding it against your buttocks for several seconds. While sitting, use one hand to pull the opposite arm across your body to stretch your arm, shoulder and elbow. Make sure you consult with a doctor before performing these body movements. Don't overdo these exercises to the point of pain or discomfort – the point is to move your muscles a little bit.

Another solution comes from ergonomic workplace furniture. Sitting at work for a long time may be unavoidable, but it can still be comfortable. Make sure your desk and chair adjust properly to fit your body style. Have your keyboard and computer monitor at proper angles to prevent strains in your hands, arms and eyes.

Sitting at work for extended periods may not be the best office policy. Employers should encourage movement, provide incentives for employees to maintain good health and have office spaces that encourage movement. Healthy employees are more productive and get sick less, thereby reducing costs and increasing profits.


Photo courtesy of Ambro at



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