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Is the Creative Chair Killing You?

Jackrabbit Design September 10, 2012 Productivity

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The design industry is often portrayed as a bunch of creative-minded suits or trendy, artsy outcasts sitting around a table, slurping down caffeinated drinks at all hours of the day and night and in most instances, this is very close to true. In this day and age of the Americanism, “we want everything now” syndrome, clients want everything yesterday and the industry certainly serves the clients on their needs and wants. Because of this, the great minds behind these ideas spend the majority of their time sitting behind a desk or lounging in a comfy chair. And little do they know that chair could be killing them.

Design industry workers get a multitude of brain exercise. Let’s face it, if our brains were our bodies we’d all be pulling buses with our bare hands on the ESPN2 late night series Strongest Man Competition. The problem lies in the hours at work where most creative types are glued to their desk working on the next project in the queue. There have been studies that are increasingly finding evidence to support the theory that sitting for long periods of time can be detrimental to your health.

What are the health risks?

The epidemic of health risks associated with a desk job has recently been covered in the arenas of the health awareness industry. This affects everyone who sits while working but would be a more prominent issue with people in the design industry because it is a salary based industry that generally requires more than the average 40-hour work week.

Not only do desk job junkies sit for at least 7-8 hours throughout the day and sometimes 3-4 hours at a time, they do not take in account the additional seat time they get beyond the office. In a recent PRWeb transmission entitled “Is Excessive Sitting Killing People” the article states that people who work a standard 8 hour work day while sitting at a desk don’t take in account how much time they spend sitting down during travel whether it be driving or public transportation. According to the 2000 Census data in Boston, the average travel time to/from work is almost 30 minutes, adding an extra hour onto an already lengthy sitting day.

So why is sitting so dangerous? A book written by Kent Burden entitled “Is Your Chair Killing You” mentioned that during long periods of sitting, insulin effectiveness drops and the chance of developing obesity rises as the enzymes responsible for breaking down the fats fall and good cholesterol plunges. Thus the weight gain and lack of exercise can lead to diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

These adverse effects sound slightly worrisome, but the Austrailian Study “Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality Risk” concluded that individuals that are 45 and older, who spend more than 11 hours a day sitting, have a 40 percent higher rate of death in the next three years than those who sit for less than four hours a day. This statistic is highly alarming even for those who still have yet to hit that 45 mark! These statistics really make you sit back in your seat and reevaluate your daily routines.

What can we do?

I think part of the answer is obvious. If you have a sitting job, exercise after work should be a top priority but some argue even that may not be enough to outweigh the negative effects. In his book, Burden suggests:

“Getting out of your chair or off the couch and being more active over the course of the day can help in your weight loss battle. Standing burns 60 more calories an hour than simply sitting. That may not sound like a lot, but if you sit for 10 hours a day – and between our daily commute, desk time then TV time many of us do – that’s 600 calories, about what you would burn in a 5 mile jog.”

Marc Hamilton, an inactivity researcher from the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, argues that while altering your sitting habits may be a positive change, sitting for extended periods of time can cause hazardous processes inside the body to turn on, including effecting the genetics of the body, raising the risks of a heart attack, diabetes and some caners. Hamilton suggests that it is not about how many calories you burn but that “the body cares more about how many hours each day you spend physically sedentary”.

Contemplating both of these viewpoints leaves me to believe that the best solution would be finding a way to break up the sitting time at work in conjunction with an active after work environment. An article from USA Today entitled “Get off that Deadly Chair” sums it up best when they quote Tim Armstrong from the World Health Organization as saying “people who exercise every day — but still spend a lot of time sitting — might get more benefit if that exercise were spread across the day, rather than in a single bout”.

Changing the way we work

Many companies in the past years have taken it upon themselves to change the “deadly” work environment to help prevent the negative consequences of sitting for their employees. An article by the BBC titled “A sitting person’s Guide to Standing up” mentions some out of the box ideas being tried such as:

• Encourage people to stand when they take a phone call to burn more calories.
• Stop internal email, so people have to leave their desks to deliver messages within the organization.
• Set reminders to do something physical every 20 minutes.

One alternative is a standing-height desk that allows employees to stand while they work. Fitdesk, a company in Nashville, TN, produces a stationary bike with a work surface for a laptop computer or a combined treadmill/workstation that could also be used to keep the blood flowing while working.

With the awareness of this risk being taken more seriously, it will take a large cultural change in the U.S. to see a mass revolution in the corporate world but there will always be companies who are willing to think out of the box and on behalf of their employees. Despite my projection that this epidemic could be more prominent in the design industry, it will most likely be the design industry that comes up with viable and trendy solutions that could change this culture. After all, a dead employee benefits no one!

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