Deadly By Design

October 10, 2014 Vera Oziransky

I wish I could say that I am writing this while walking on a treadmill or standing. I am not. Instead, I am trapped in a piece of furniture that, as it turns out, is accelerating my aging process and steering me to premature death; the chair. The good news? I can make one simple and highly effective change: stand up*.

Research has demonstrated that sitting is associated with a number of chronic disease risks and conditions, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease, the number one killer in America. Moreover, studies have shown that even meeting physical activity guidelines cannot undo the negative impact of sitting on health. Researchers have recently uncovered a direct impact of sitting on the length of telomeres, the protective units of DNA that cap the ends of chromosomes in cells (similar to plastic tips on shoelaces). Telomere length has been associated with a healthy lifestyle and longevity. A Swedish study found that a reduction in sitting time was associated with telomere lengthening in sedentary, overweight individuals. Moreover, a study of our neighbors in Canada found that mortality rates were lower for individuals with higher rates of standing. Interestingly, telomere shortening has also been found in chronically depressed individuals, hinting at the impact sitting may also have on our mental health.

Considering most of us spend the majority of our time at work, why aren’t we discarding these silent killers? Is sitting the new smoking? I have heard this question asked many times in the past few months. My response is no, it’s worse. Employees were never supplied with cigarettes at work and forced to smoke them for the majority of their waking day. Yet, few employers provide employees with alternatives to sitting desks.

As we work to build on the Vitality Institute Recommendations by both making markets work for health promotion and collaborating across sectors to catalyze design for health and well-being, why not start with something as simple as these healthy alternatives? I could stand up, but if there is no alternative to a sitting desk, I won’t. In fact, I haven’t. If the demand rises for standing desks or a way to at least sit actively, the market will provide them and we will all take a simple yet powerful step towards living healthier and longer lives.

 

*Our endorsement of the “Stand Up” philosophy as shown in this video ends at the 1min30s mark as we recommend standing up to go for a walking meeting, get healthy food, go to the gym, or another such healthier behavior.

Source of Image: Washington Post Infographic on Hazards of Sitting (click on link for full infographic).

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