By Amy Rose, KT Staff Writer
Reposted with permission from the American Kinesiology Association (AKA)
Increasingly sedentary lifestyles are taking a toll on our health. People worldwide are spending more time sitting. Sitting at desks, driving in cars, relaxing at home—it all adds up to hours and hours spent in an inactive state. Inactivity researcher Marc Hamilton, a professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center invLouisiana, told the Chicago Tribune, “In our society, many people are literally livingwith a stalled metabolic rate similar to an anesthetized patient for over 80% of their day. No wonder we have an unsustainable health crisis.”
A 2010 study conducted by the American Cancer Society reported that women who sat more than 6 hours a day were 37% more likely to die prematurely than women who sat for less than 3 hours; the risk of early death for men increased by 18%. Long periods of sitting have also been linked to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancer, and overall shortened life expectancy.
Prolonged sitting has also been found to have a negative effect on metabolism. Most important, it decreases the production of lipoprotein lipase, a molecule that plays a key role in how a body processes fat. It is produced by many tissues but most notably by the contraction of muscles. Low levels of lipase keeps the body from properly metabolizing sugar and fat, which leads to weight gain and the development of diabetes and coronary heart disease. This is just one of the substances that are produced by active muscles, which helps the body to achieve a healthy metabolic state.
Unfortunately, an hour or so of traditional exercise does not seem to totally wipe out the ill effects of sitting the rest of the day. While short periods of strenuous exercise are good for the body, experts are saying that more active periods of standing or slow walking are needed to really get the body working at an optimal level. To combat sedentary habits, more and more office workers are turning to the use of standing desks during the day.
Standing desks are not a new idea; they were used by Thomas Jefferson,Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Virginia Woolf, and Donald Rumsfeld. However, they have started showing up in more modern offices in recent years.
Duck-Chul Lee, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, has been using a makeshift stand-up desk for about 3 years. He created his own standup desk out of paper boxes after having neck problems, which were exacerbated by sitting for long periods. He works at his standing desk for a couple of hours a day while doing simple tasks. “I feel good,” said Lee. “I feel less stressed and it is more fun to come to work.”
Other standing-desk users say they increased their productivity, reduced stress,and feel more energized since incorporating the standing desk into their work days. Standing prevents both the repetitive stress and muscle atrophy that are caused by sitting. However, Lee does say that he cannot stand for more than 3 hours at a time without getting tired in his ankles, knees, and legs.
It is suggested that stand-up desk users alternate between standing and sitting to avoid fatigue and other complications, such as varicose veins. It is also recommended to shift position often while standing, wear comfortable shoes, and stand on a pad to cushion the feet.
While longer periods of just standing at a desk have great benefits, some workers have taken it a step further and converted to the new trend of treadmill desks. Greg Welk, a physical activity and public health researcher at Iowa State University, recently conducted a study to gauge the use of treadmill desks in a university setting. The study made treadmill desks available to over40 units at ISU in a communal area for all employees to use. According to Welk, the overall response was very positive. Use of the treadmill was influenced by the type of work that was done and also by the ability to work in the communal area. They recommended that treadmill users walk at a pace of 1 to 2 miles per hour on a flat grade and wear comfortable shoes during heir walking time. A third of the survey respondents attributed improvements in physical and mental well -being to use of the treadmill desk.
Welk himself has continued to use a (TrekDesk) treadmill desk after the study. “I feel better just knowing that I’ve been on my feet,” he said. Welk prefers to use his treadmill desk when he has more mundane tasks to do, which usually adds up to an hour or more each day. “Avoiding sitting too long is the key. Moving around every hour is good just to avoid the continuous sitting time,” Welk said.
The study at ISU was done in collaboration with the manufacturer of the TrekDesk. The TrekDesk can be used in combination with an existing treadmill; it does not come with the exercise equipment. Steve Bordley, the founder of TrekDesk, had spent almost two years in a wheelchair as the result of a gunshot wound and was looking for ways to regain his strength and relieve pain in his lower body. He began to research the benefits of walking and experimented with a simple rubber tub stacked on his treadmill. From there the TrekDesk has evolved into a growing business. The academic sector has responded enthusiastically to Bordley’s product. “Academics get more information and adapt to it more quickly than the general public,” he said.
Bordley is passionate about his mission to get people moving to improve their health. “I have never felt better about what I am doing. The more (TrekDesks) that are out there, the more people get the message.”
Amy Woods, associate professor in the kinesiology and community health department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, feels like she is an inspiration to her students when they see her walking on her treadmill desk. The U of I has been very supportive of Woods’ choice to move to a treadmill desk. The technology department has helped her obtain the preferred computer equipment, and her department administration has supported her in every way. She walks at a slow pace for about 1 to 2 hours a day. She says, “I don’t consider this my workout. It’s more psychological. I feel more productive and more relaxed when I work.”