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David Mittleman
David Mittleman
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Public Enemy #1: The Office Chair

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Most likely you’re reading this blog while you sit at your desk or table. If you’ve been sitting for a while you might feel pain your lower back or numbness in your thighs. You might even feel slightly depressed. According to new research in the fields of epidemiology, molecular biology, biomechanics, and physiology these aren’t uncommon symptoms from sitting for prolonged periods of time. What is startling, however, is that sitting is literally becoming a public health problem.

Lately, a lot of attention has been given to the obesity epidemic, so exercising is obviously a good method of ridding ourselves of those extra pounds. But sadly exercising isn’t going to be enough to reverse the effects of sitting for 8.9 hours each day—the average amount of time Americans sit. According to microbiologist, Marc Hamilton at the University of Missouri, the reason that exercising can’t counteract the effects of sitting is because “that the qualitative mechanisms of sitting are completely different from walking or exercising…sitting too much is not the same as exercising too little. They do completely different things to the body.”

Ever wonder why it seems like you know two people, one who eats McDonald’s every day but weighs about 100 pounds, and another who eats as health as possible but still can’t seem to lose the extra weight? There’s a reason for that too, according to a 2005 article in Science magazine. Specifically, the researchers found that obese people are already more likely to gravitate towards sitting, even after losing a lot of weight their bodies are “pre-programmed” to the chair. The problem lies in the fact that just 150 years ago our ancestors were probably outside, doing more physical work, and definitely not sitting in front of computers for hours at a time.

So after all this bad news, you’re probably wondering what you can do to stop the slow decline of your body. For most of us, we can’t quit our day jobs. However, the best thing you could do is to get rid of your office chair. In fact, Hamilton, the microbiologist from the University of Missouri, doesn’t own one. Here’s the reason why: "if you’re standing around and puttering, you recruit specialized muscles designed for postural support that never tire. They’re unique in that the nervous system recruits them for low-intensity activity and they’re very rich in enzymes.” So if you’re sitting around instead in an office chair all day, these helpful enzymes—that pull fat and cholesterol from the blood stream—drop by 90 to 95%. Your best bet is to purchase a stool so that you can “perch” at your desk, which still requires your muscles to engage to keep you upright. If you think you would look strange sitting at a stool at your office desk, consider these other options: the Swopper, a hybrid stool seat or the high HAG Capisco chair. Alternatively, standing desks and chaise longues are good options. Overall, try to stand up and walk around as much as you can during your work day.

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    Great post, David, thanks for sharing. Didn’t see anything about what you’re going to do to trade in your desk chair!

    A mentor of mine has a thin podium as a standing desk if sorts (in addition to his regular desk), at which he reads documents and sometimes writes on a laptop. He uses it less for health reasons than for the analytical stimulation of getting out from behind the desk, but it’s no coincidence that he’s a fit guy, I’m sure. It can be hard to do that kind of thing at work, of course, since it will seem strange to people at first.

    Another suggestion would be to use a dictaphone or paper pad for drafting, away from the computer (or even the office). That change of pace and environment can stimulate your thinking and get your energy levels up.