Your Office Chair is Killing You

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

James A. Levine, co-director of the Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, author of Get Up!: Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), and the inventor of the treadmill desk, explains why sitting is bad for health and longevity and how to add more movement to your workday.

What We Learned from the Inventor of the Treadmill Desk

    • There are a number of problems associated with chronic sitting: diabetes, hypertension, cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, back pain.
    • Dr. James Levine’s goal is only 3 hours of sitting a day. He even stood at his microphone in our studio!
    • The ideal speed for your treadmill desk is 1.1 miles per hour. Keep in mind, the average walking speed is 3.1 miles per hour, so 1 mph is pretty leisurely.
    • What if I work out every morning before work – does that counteract the effects of sitting at the office? Dr. Levine says the benefits of a daily run are entirely offset by a day of sitting. He suggests starting by standing up at least once every hour and taking a stroll around the office.
  • Callers who use a treadmill desk said they experience… higher levels of energy throughout the day and after work, improved focus and attention, heightened productivity (Levine says corporate studies show productivity jumps 10%to 15% with treadmill desks).
  • What about standing desks? Exercise balls? Just as we’re not designed to sit for 13 hours a day, we’re not meant to stand for that long either. Standing creates other problems like varicose veins and lower back pain, and while exercise balls are good for your upper core, Dr. Levine sees them as a gateway to the treadmill desk.
  • It’s not really about the treadmill – the key is building movement into your day. People have an innate drive to move, and enabling that drive helps us learn and work better.
  • Kids need movement too! Levine designed a school that allows children to move around the classrooms freely. Teachers reported improved concentration, and students’ scores on state tests improved by about 10%. (And no, little boys aren’t more fidgety than little girls!)
  • What do you do to add movement to your day? Here are some suggestions from listeners, but feel free to add your own in the comments: take a daily walk during your lunch break, do lunges with your baby/pet/weights while watching TV, weed the garden, walk the bridges…


Dr. James Levine

Comments [37]

Re: J276. I couldn't agree more. And the 'thank you for taking my call" is huge waste of time and breath. I seem to recall at one time Brian announced a wish that callers stop saying 'thank you for taking my call" no avail.

Aug. 04 2014 03:54 PM
Bonnie Marsh from NJ

Many years ago when I was a volunteer in various classrooms, doing programs on social anthropology, I was at first shocked at the classroom that had no desks. The children (fifth grade) sat on a rug on the floor. While the program proceeded, the students were free to sharpen pencils, comb and brush each other's hair, move about freely. I was amazed that, compared to other classrooms, the students were superior in their ability to concentrate and participate in the discussion. Where there was strict discipline about moving around, there was much less interest in the topic of the day. They didn't stand for extended periods of time, but they got up and down from the floor often.

Jul. 31 2014 04:43 PM

It's not good for us but we can condition our children to sit from kindergarten through 12th grade, 7 plus hours a day, as we have done for generations. (?)

Can you picture teaching a sixth grade math lesson with students jiggling and twizzling about for the 80 minute class period ? No ? If a student is fooling around with a chair, we are not allowed to remove the chair and ask them to stand, as a corrective for even 5 minutes, because it is regarded as "corporal punishment" ( PC )
Good !
Then you can imagine how productive these workplaces are.

Jul. 30 2014 03:49 PM
Lee from NYC

Per the misleading title of the piece - the office chair itself may be harming our health, if not killing us.
Up until January of this year, all US furniture was manufactured to meet a California flammability standard (TB-117) by incorporating toxic flame retardants into the foam. (Really -look at the label under the seat.) I'm looking for a new office chair - for the 3 hours I'll spend sitting :)- that's flame retardant free (label would shaw it meets TB117-2013) but can't find anything. Would love to hear interviews on this subject and sources for flame-retardant-free furniture, particulalry office chairs.

Jul. 30 2014 11:32 AM
BMN from NJ

I set my timer for 30 min. each time I sit to read. When it goes off, I get up and take a walk around the house then sit and repeat. This also helps my eyesight since I adjust my focus frequently.

Jul. 30 2014 10:38 AM
Scott from Long Island, NY

I have osteoarthritis in my left knee; constantly walking while at my desk would mean agony for the rest of the day.

What's a solution that doesn't require impact on the knees?

Jul. 30 2014 08:56 AM

Callers, PLEASE get to the point immediately... It is not necessary to say "oh, hi, how are you?", when your call is taken.

What exactly do you expect the host to say?

I initially though Leonard Lopate sounded overly cranky when this happened, but now completely understand the sentiment.

Jul. 30 2014 08:05 AM
joyce from NYC

I am a great believer in moving! I have a bunch of jobs and have to hike up and down subway stairs from one gig to another. In the subway, I rarely fight for a seat and prefer to stand up, clutching the pole for balance. I also teach public speaking part-time in college, and I'm always getting my students to get up and move around - to form groups with other students - to have a physically active classroom. I'm always shocked at how reticent they are to move! They squeeze themselves into the seat and go on automatic, and when I say "Okay, everyone, get up for this activity" they moan and groan. Some of them try to drag their chair across the room with their butt never leaving the seat - as if they were pasted to the damn chair. It's a disease!

Jul. 30 2014 08:04 AM
Gary G from New Jersey

For the past 6 months I have been standing at least 50% of the day working off of my laptop situated on an Ikea bookcase. All of my lower back problems disappeared. When
I get tired, I sit for an hour or two but broken up by easy movement refreshers or stretches. This is very simple.
This works very well for me. Not sure about the laptop desk - sounds good but I think my solution works just fine. Thanks for this great presentation/article.

Jul. 30 2014 06:41 AM

So glad this subject is being discussed everywhere. I had lower back issues and surgery last year. My employer bought me a desk with a mechanical device which raises the desk or lowers it so I only sit for about 10% of the day; stand and walk the other 90%. It is one of the best inventions ever and the nicest gift my company has ever given me. I would have had to leave my job if I didn't have this wonderful desk. Now I play music, dance and move the majority of the day!

Jul. 29 2014 11:19 PM
Dennis Johnson from Murphysboro, IL

Think of the benefits of treadmill bars. You would burn off the alcohol faster. Less bar fights--how does an aggressor run down some one if he is on a treadmill? The parallel treadmills would also make hook ups more difficult.
I enjoyed the show today as I was walking in beautiful Southern Illinois.

Jul. 29 2014 07:02 PM
Conscious at last!

Whoa.. office chairs killing us???? Is this Fox news? this is stupidly alarmist and sensationalist for a headline here -don't ya think? I'm not gonna worry about the murderous furniture... If you don't get up off your tush often enough, it ain't the fault of the chair.

Jul. 29 2014 06:01 PM
Dianna from Ridgewood, NY

I spent about 3 years as a barista (lots of standing) and another 3 as an assistant in a financial investment firm (lots of sitting) and developed a debilitating herniated disc which led to surgery at age 29. My solution was to change careers (I'm now an elementary teacher) but I'm horrified by how children are forced to sit for hours in schools (with the exception of outliers such as Montessori and Waldorf schools). I would love to see these treadmill and standing desks (with stools and foot pedals) gain more ground in schools--I am personally very lax about how I allow my students to sit at their desks (they frequently get up on their knees in their chairs) and try to incorporate as many standing, moving, and walking activities as I can in my teaching.

Jul. 29 2014 11:28 AM
carolanyc from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

P.S. The desk just arrived! I have to assemble it before I can use it.
And what Dr. Levine just said is so true...I have a Y membership and it's only a 5 min. walk from my house, but I haven't been in months! Working from home makes it very hard to take breaks between projects. At least with the standing desk, I hope I can walk around between tasks.

Jul. 29 2014 11:24 AM

Maria from Queens - I've been standing and walking for most of my life (after forced sitting at school). It's hardly been a "trend." At 65 I am slim, fit, have great posture and plenty of energy. I don't "work out" I just work and move. The sitting half of my family are all battling weight, high blood pressure and couldn't dig a small hole in the ground if their life depended on it.

Jul. 29 2014 11:23 AM
Bob from Westchester

Guest is starting to sound like the fictional Howard Beale -- "I want you all to stand up, get up from your chairs, walk to the window...." Would yelling at the top of our lungs "I'm not going to take it (i.e., sitting) anymore!" help as well?

Jul. 29 2014 11:21 AM
wwilson553 from Central NJ

He needs to be talking to industry. If I even stand up, let alone walk around the floor, I get the hairy eyeball. I'm pressured to sit down and work.

Jul. 29 2014 11:20 AM
genejoke from Brooklyn

And now for something completely different ...

Jul. 29 2014 11:20 AM
Shari Garretson from South River, NJ

Is sitting on a Balans chair (half the weight on your knees, back naturally straight) any better than sitting on a regular chair?

Jul. 29 2014 11:17 AM
Amy from Manhattan

"Tall"? What does height have to do w/fitness?

Jul. 29 2014 11:16 AM

Why not a treadle beneath a desk, like mechanical sewing machines used for power? Moving a treadle back and forth could power a back up battery for all the electronic equipment.

Jul. 29 2014 11:15 AM
Hana from Columbia - NYP on 168th

One of my medical school classmates suffers from back problems and began standing up during our 4-5 hour morning lectures. Very soon, 20-30 people from the class, inlcuding myself, joined her to stand up in the back realizing that we were able to remain a lot more alert and energized throughout the lecture marathons as well as the rest of the day.

Jul. 29 2014 11:12 AM

How high is the treadmill desk ??

Jul. 29 2014 11:12 AM
Dan from Inwood

Sounds like Pseudoscience. How big was the testing group ?

Jul. 29 2014 11:12 AM
Kathleen from Brooklyn

A question for Dr. Levine:

I have a standing desk which I've modified with a small stepper machine. I haven't started using it in earnest but I'm curious: would the benefits associated with a treadmill desk apply in this case?

Jul. 29 2014 11:11 AM
Florence from NYC

This really helped my back pain: WorkFit-S Single HD Sit-Stand Workstation

Jul. 29 2014 11:10 AM
Maria from Queens

I know that my stress is relieved by working at a job I enjoy. This trumps standing. I noticed that some of my 'higher-ups' have been been doing this as they follow trends w/o realizing that if some of their personal and work lives were more in order; that they'd be far healthier that the trend of standing up. It seems to be a herd mentality those that do this. It's a bit silly. Get an ergonomic chair and do all in moderation.

Jul. 29 2014 11:05 AM
Penny from Downtown

How to you coordinate walking and typing or writing? What about tiny proof; how do you see it while moving?

Jul. 29 2014 11:04 AM
ryan from Brooklyn

Does Dr. Levine have any wisdom regarding the full squat (aka the "Asian" squat) as a healthier alternative to sitting in a chair? Long ago I lost the ability to squat with both feet flat on the floor like many other "Westerners", and I'm working on regaining that flexibility.

Jul. 29 2014 11:04 AM
Alvin from Manhattan

The Treadmill Desk: For people who take the rat race literally.

Jul. 29 2014 11:04 AM
Bettina from Manhattan

I am retired, so no longer in an office chair, but so afraid of inactivity that I bought myself a little peddaler, that is a semi bicycle device that sits under my reading chair which I pull out when I read for hours at a time, and pedal away. I get a little exercise, prevent DVT and it is not at all distracting or annoying. At 78 I am an avid folk dancer, long distance walker and in remarkable health. Iv'e been laughed at for my activities but I have the last laugh.

Jul. 29 2014 11:03 AM
Capp from nyc

What about active sitting with the ball? Better then a chair?

Jul. 29 2014 11:03 AM
Maria from Queens

I know that my stress is relieved by working at a job I enjoy. This trumps sitting. I noticed that some of my 'higher-ups' have been been doing this as they follow trends w/o realizing that if some of their personal and work lives were more in order; that they'd be far healthier that the trend of standing up. It seems to be a herd mentality those that do this. It's a bit silly. Get an ergonomic chair and do all in moderation.

Jul. 29 2014 11:02 AM
carolanyc from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

The treadmill desk was way too expensive and big for my space, but I just ordered a standing computer desk, which was only about $40! It hasn't arrived yet, but after months of too much sitting and too many chiropractor visits, I can't wait for it to arrive!

Jul. 29 2014 11:01 AM
pina78 from South Plainfield

I'm graphic designer, and use computer and hold mouse all the time. Is it possible to hold mouse for a long time on a treadmill desk? I think it would kill my elbow. Any suggestions?

Jul. 29 2014 11:01 AM

I don't have a treadmill desk, but I've set up most of my workstations (sewing, kitchen work, greenhouse work so that I can stand. It's easy to put some blocks or boards under desk legs so that all work can be done in a comfortable standing position.

Question: If you're tired - is it better to sit in a chair, squat on the floor or just recline?

Jul. 29 2014 11:01 AM
JMD from Westchester

I use an Ergo Desktop platform at work every day and it has helped lower my blood glucose level. This is just from standing 6 hours a day, not even walking.

Jul. 29 2014 11:01 AM

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