Becoming a Stand-Up: Fighting Disease with Desks

It was hard to miss the headlines this summer telling us that a new federal study confirmed what many disgruntled office workers had long suspected – that their desk jobs may just be killing them.  While the headlines were a bit overblown, they did capture the essence of what more and more evidence is showing, being consistently sedentary for long stretches of time increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, and early death.

In this latest study, women who sat for six hours or more each day were nearly 40 percent more likely to die during the 14 year study period than those who sat less than three hours per day.  Men who sat for six hours or more were 20 percent more likely to die.  
Perhaps most surprising to many, hitting the gym, walking, or doing other physical activities didn’t counteract the effects of sitting, though not exercising certainly made the effects of sitting even worse, more than doubling the risk of dying.

With these results, many office workers and their bosses have taken note, and there seems to be a move in corporate America – as well as in home offices – to try to improve health by cutting back on sit-time, largely through innovations in desks. alone ran at least five stories over the past spring and summer on stand-up desks, including one reviewing some of the current crop that may be seen in both corner offices and cubicles alike.  In October, Wired magazine posted specs on what to look for in stand up desks, including home-spun inexpensive alternatives. And this past Sunday, the New York Times ran an article on the growing acceptance of stand-up desks in the workplace – even the space-gobbling and pricey treadmill desks.
It’s a common refrain here on CNiC that our surroundings can have a profound impact on the health choices we all make – or don’t make.  It’s hard to exercise if there are no sidewalks or parks in your neighborhood.  It’s hard to eat healthy food during the day if there’s nothing but fast food choices around your school or workplace.

With around 80 percent of US jobs now requiring little if any physical activity, beginning to change the office environment and culture around sitting could have an important impact on employee wellness as well as nationwide health.  Of course, we still need more sidewalks, parks, and produce stands but more stand up desks is still a good move in the right direction. 

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