Standing while you read this could do something towards saving your life, according to Dr. James Levine, whose new book reveals how he came to the scientific conclusion that our chairs are killing us.
“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death,” says Levine, a professor of medicine at the U.S.-based Mayo Clinic, in his book “Get Up!: Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It”.
Levine’s claims are based on a study of “non-exercise activity thermogenesis” or NEAT, which is the amount of energy we use doing everything except sleeping, eating and exercise. NEAT activities include going to work, shoveling snow and taking a walk – and the more active your job is, the more NEAT calories you burn.
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“Those individuals who are lean are up and walking about 2¼ more hours a day than those individuals who are obese,” Levine said in an online seminar last week.
And although these extra couple of hours may contain a relatively small amount of movement, they have huge health implications, according to Levine – and obesity isn’t the only possible consequence.
Low NEAT is linked to, among other things, weight gain, diabetes, heart attacks and cancer, he said.
Standing offices and classrooms – with high desks that keep you on your feet – are one way to address low NEAT, according to Levine. He argued that workplaces in which people stand and move about have more productive workforces.
“What is critically important is that companies that deploy these types of programs show increased hardcode productivity of around 11 percent,” he said.
The doctor also pointed to studies run in more active classrooms across Sweden, Germany and the U.S. which found “on average, kid’s grades improve 10-15 percent against (average) equivalent child equivalents”.
Taking a stand against standing?
The standing office has come under fire from some quarters, however, with critics arguing that standing at your desk all day has its own negative health implications.
Research by the Toronto Workers Health & Safety Centre found that standing for prolonged periods could lead to, among other things, sore backs, feet and varicose veins.
The New York Times Magazine columnist Dan Kois, who underwent a month-long standing experiment, also highlighted possible social problems with the standing desk in an article entitled “Sitting, the great leveler.”
“From the lowliest peasant to the mightiest pharaoh, who doesn’t enjoy a good sit?” Kois wrote, quoting Mr Burns from The Simpsons. “I had never really thought about the social implications of standing versus sitting until this month brought them to the fore.”
But for those who prefer to take a seat, all is not lost, with a recent study indicating that exercise may offset the dangers of sitting. According to researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center, one hour of physical exercise could counteract the effects of sitting for six to seven hours a day.