Standing on the job gains favour in US workplaces

Standing on the job gains favour in US workplaces

WASHINGTON - Three centuries after Thomas Jefferson found standing up a superior way to work, a growing number of Americans are mulling the dangers of sitting down on the job - and opting to get on their feet.

Backaches. Muscular degeneration. Heart disease. Diabetes. Colon cancer. Even premature death is on the list of the potential consequences of a sedentary working life, according to a raft of studies on the topic.

"We're sitting ourselves to an early death," said Rob Danoff, a family physician in Pennsylvania and member of the American Osteopathic Association with a special interest in preventative medicine.

"We are a 'potato' society," he told AFP in a telephone interview "We sit most of the day, so we are work potatoes - and then we go home and we are couch potatoes. That combination can be deadly."

Risks of 'prolonged sitting'

Adult Americans spend on average 7.7 hours a day engaged in "sedentary behaviour," the National Institutes of Health has reported.

And the American Osteopathic Association estimates that 70 per cent of office workers spend more than five hours a day seated at their desks.

The longer people are sitting, the more difficult it is for their blood to circulate, explained Danoff, who cautioned that going to the gym after work affords no compensation.

According to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the risk of premature death grows 15 per cent for those who sit eight hours a day, and 40 per cent for those who sit 11 hours a day, compared with those who sit just four hours.

Last year, the American Medical Association formally recognised the "potential risks of prolonged sitting" as it urged employers and employees alike to seek out alternatives to sitting, such as standing working stations - some even equipped with a treadmill - or isometric balls instead of desk chairs.

The message is starting to get around, with more Americans choosing standing desks - like Jefferson, one of the US founding fathers and third president, prolific architect and well-known tinkerer, who favoured standing when doing his tasks.

"Standing desks have been popular probably for 20 years in Europe, but not in the United States," said Jeffrey Meltzer, president of Applied Ergonomics, an Illinois firm that specializes in workspaces.

"In the states, they were seen as silly," said Meltzer, adding that he noticed a significant shift in 2013 when sales of standing desks leaped 50 per cent.

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