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Is sitting the new smoking?

Is sitting the new smoking? That might seem like a bold statement, considering the harmful effects from smoking. But many recent studies have shown that people who sit for long periods every day face serious health risks, such as a heightened risk of serious illness and premature death.

In a study recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the authors note that daily hours spent being sedentary (sitting), regardless of whether you exercise or not, are linked with the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers and premature mortality. For example, compared with those who sit the least, those who sit the most have over twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, a 13% increased risk of cancer incidence and a 17% increased risk of premature death.

The study recommend that office workers should stand up for a least two hours day, and eventually bump that up to four hours.

Other recommendations include:

  • Regularly breaking up seated based work with standing based work, with the use of adjustable sit-stand desks or work stations
  • Avoidance of prolonged static standing, which may be as harmful as prolonged sitting
  • Altering posture/light walking to alleviate possible musculoskeletal pain and fatigue
  • Embracing other healthy behaviours, such as cutting down on drinking and smoking, eating healthy and alleviating stress

Researchers in the United States suggest that increasing daily activity can help improve health and that reducing the amount of time spent seated each day by less than three hours can boost life expectancy an additional two years. Sitting in one place all day can lead to neck spasms, musculoskeletal problems, chronic weight gain, slower metabolism, and vein thrombosis.

So what can employers and employees do to make sure they're getting out of their chairs at work? A new trend appearing in many offices around the world is the treadmill desk. This is a treadmill deck with a large desk above it instead of the regular console, so you can work on a laptop or spread your papers and notebooks out. It's designed for you to walk slowly so you don't break a sweat or get out of breath. You can learn about our line of treadmill desks and the bike desk here.

The exercise and movement the desk allows have many benefits, besides the obvious health ones. Numerous studies have shown that employers who invest in health and wellness programs for their employees can save time and money:

• Absenteeism is reduced by 14%-36%

• 30% of businesses saw improved productivity

• 11% showed higher revenue and 28% greater shareholder returns

A 12-month experiment in the U.S. was recently conducted to determine how the availability of treadmill workstations affected employees' physical activity and work performance. The researchers used sedentary volunteers from a financial services company, half of whom received treadmill workstations during the first two months of the study and the rest in the seventh month of the study.

Weekly online performance surveys were given to participants and their supervisors, as well as to all other sedentary employees and supervisors. The study showed overall work performance, quality and quantity of performance, and interactions with coworkers improved as a result of using the treadmill workstations and improved levels of activity.