If you have a job where you have to sit all day, make sure you take frequent breaks to stand up and walk around.
Two friends recently emailed me a creepy article entitled “Your Office Chair Is Killing You.” When I bought my knee-tilt, swivel-control task chair at a friend’s garage sale last year, I believed I was getting a bargain. Now I realize my so-called friend was smugly transferring a murderous presence from her home office to mine.
A Healthy Way to Spend Time
Is it true? Can sitting in an office chair kill you? That assertion seems ridiculous, but—uh-oh!—apparently isn’t. Journalist Arianne Cohen’s April 29, 2010, article about the lethal effects of sitting is posted on Bloomberg.com. Cohen’s article quotes scientists, doctors, and academicians who support her title’s scary assertion.
University of Missouri microbiologist Marc Hamilton, who doesn’t own an office chair, explains in the article that standing and puttering entails specialized muscles rich in enzymes. According to Hamilton, one of these enzymes, lipoprotein lipase, grabs fat and cholesterol from the blood. Lipoprotein lipase then turns the fat it grabbed into energy while simultaneously transforming bad cholesterol into good cholesterol. Sadly, sitting doesn’t trigger this magical response. Instead, after sitting a couple hours, healthy cholesterol drops by 20 percent.
Also, according to Dr. Andrew C. Hecht, co-chief of spinal surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center, sitting even with perfect posture puts serious pressure on your back. Standing doesn’t: the hips, knees, and spine bear your weight when you stand.
Interviewed on the Brian Lehrer Show for a May 7, 2010, podcast entitled “You’d Better Stand Up,” Cohen explained that lumbar support doesn’t fix these problems. She compared buying an expensive chair with exceptional lumbar support to smoking filtered cigarettes. Sitting on a ball also isn’t helpful, she reported. Stressing that exercise doesn’t compensate for time spent sitting, Cohen urged people to embrace the idea that you don’t have to sit down while working at a computer. Standing desks are a good option, she said.
For people who must sit, Cohen recommended seating arrangements that maintain the spine’s natural S-curve and keep weight on the legs and feet, such as a bar stool or an architect’s perch. In the Bloomberg article, she also suggested a couple pricy but intriguing chair alternatives, the Via Swopper stool and the HAG Capisco chair. On a promotional YouTube video, a Via sales executive sits, bounces, and sways on a Swopper, making it look like a really fun seating option. However, the $525 price tag undercuts its appeal.
Pictures of the HAG Capisco and consumer comments about it appear on apartmenttherapy.com. Consumer reactions to the HAG Capisco vary, but some people report it takes a day or two for back muscles used to slouching against traditional chairs to adjust. Consumers who used the chair tended to be fairly enthusiastic about it. Comments from people who merely saw pictures of the chair were almost universally derogatory. Prices for new HAG Capisco chairs are steep, ranging from $313 to $1,088 on Amazon.com.
Traditional office chairs aren’t alone in posing dangers to our health. On the Mayo Clinic website, James A. Levine, M.D., Ph.D., explains that any extended sitting, whether it’s in the office, at home in front of a TV, or behind the wheel of a car, increases the risk of many health problems, including premature death from cardiovascular disease. Like Cohen, he concluded that moving more and sitting less is the best solution.
“Simply by standing, you burn three times as many calories as you do sitting,” Levine reported. “Muscle contractions, including the ones required for standing, seem to trigger important processes related to the breakdown of fats and sugars. When you sit down, muscle contractions cease and these processes stall,” he wrote.
So what can you do if your job requires long bouts of sitting and you can’t persuade your boss to buy you a Via Swopper, a HAG Capisco, or a standing desk? Take advantage of opportunities to move around. Stand while you’re taking a phone call or reading your email. Walk to your coworkers’ desks instead of tweeting, calling, or emailing. If you can get away with it, take mini fitness breaks, too. Check out the Mayo Clinic website; it contains slide shows and videos of simple exercises and stretches that you can do in your office in just a few minutes. Mayo’s “Office Stretches: How-to video collection” is a good place to start.
Excuse me, please, while I stand up and stretch!
©2010 Cheryl Fusco Johnson. Cheryl teaches NIA classes in Fairfield.