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Those with a desk job, please stand up
"At 160 pounds, it takes a tremendous amount of machinery to keep me upright, and this process does more than simply hold me up," Levine said while using his desk treadmill. "Quite clearly, there are fundamental metabolic switches that go on when you stand up. The body isn't built to be sitting stationary all day long."
Kate Kirkpatrick stands at work, although not because she knew that doing so might extend her life. She had no idea. An executive at Gensler, an international design and architecture firm in the District, she began standing last year after a running injury made sitting painful.
The injury went away, but Kirkpatrick never retook her seat. She has a keyboard attached to her desk, which rises so she can stand and use it. She works most of the day standing up, wearing comfy running shoes. Her prized Aeron chair, that staple of modern office life? Pushed to the side. She feels great.
"I don't get that need-to-take-a-nap feeling in the middle of the day anymore," Kirkpatrick said. "My body just feels more healthy. I'm more alert. The tightness you get in the neck from sitting all day long, that's gone too. I'm just more comfortable now."
Eric Friedman, head of Montgomery County's office of consumer protection, started standing at work nearly 10 years ago because "all of my stress collects in my neck and I was getting a lot of headaches." He doesn't know what kind of shape he'd be in without standing, given that "all I feel like I do is swat down e-mails all day."
Like other standers, he said he wouldn't go back to sitting.
Hedge, the Cornell professor, isn't a fan of all this standing. "Making people stand all day is dumb," he said. "Standing increases torso muscle activity and spinal disc pressure, increases the risk of varicose veins, increases the risk of carotid artery disease and increases the load on the heart."
The sensible and most cost-effective strategy, he says, is to sit in a neutral posture, slightly reclined, with the keyboard on a tray above the lap. This position promotes positive blood flow. Workers should then occasionally walk around, stretch and avoid prolonged periods at the desk. The key, he said, is movement, not standing.
"If you stand all day, you will be worse off than if you sit all day," he said.
Proponents of standing in the workplace concede that they don't know how much uprightness is needed to produce the benefits they associate with standing tall. Studies are underway to test dose responses: How much of X is needed to produce Y?
"A lot of those answers aren't available yet, but we're going to get them," said Hamilton, the Pennington researcher.
"It's not a matter of being excessive, ludicrous and insane about standing, but it cuts both ways," says the Mayo Clinic's Levine. "If one were to be sitting all day, compulsively, that is equally absurd as far as the body's construction is concerned. The evidence is in: Sitting all day is harmful for our health."
Half-jokingly, he summed up his stance: "Sitters of the world, unite. It is time to rise up now."