Don't take workplace ailments sitting down
Advocates of workplace wellness initiatives are hoping 2015 will be the year that standup desks, historically favoured by great minds from Leonardo da Vinci to Virginia Woolf, will reconfigure the modern cubicle. Some 50 to 70 per cent of people spend six or more hours each day sitting, according to a 2012 study from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Fitness experts say office workers are particularly susceptible to what has been dubbed the sitting disease. "Researchers have said that sitting is the new smoking," says Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist at Miramar College in San Diego.
Prolonged sitting is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and early mortality, she added. Medical studies show that even people who are active are not immune to health concerns resulting from hours of sitting.
The American Council on Exercise (ACE) has offered its workers the option of standing workstations for more than two years. "Many people report feeling more energetic. It certainly helps with mental processing," says Dr Cedric Bryant, chief science officer at ACE.
Bryant, who works at a desk attached to a treadmill, says standing helps him stay alert and focused. He believes the desks are a reasonable expense.
There are various types of standup desks, from freestanding workstations to others that are placed on top of a regular desk or table.
California-based Joe Nafziger was a creative director at an ad agency when he developed the ReadyDesk, a US$169 adjustable standup desk.
"It's definitely a worldwide thing that is picking up speed," says the 35-year-old, whose desks have been sold in countries including the United States, Australia, Germany and Japan.
"And I love that you are always ready - you are not half turned off - leg muscles fired up, core activated, with less stress on your spine," he added.
A study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health showed that over an eight-hour day, standing at a desk burns an additional 163 calories compared to sitting.
Bryant says just as sitting all day is not good, neither is prolonged standing, which studies have shown can increase the risk of hardening arteries and varicose veins. "Start by standing for a half hour or an hour of the workday," he says, to give the body time to adjust.
The goal is to break up the day to avoid the typical, constant sitting that most do in an office.
"It's more of a lifestyle approach: turning the clock back to where life used to be before we engineered movement out of our lifestyle," Bryant says.