Deadly desk jobs

According to recent studies, your chair is your enemy as sitting for extended stretches of time may be considered a lethal activity. While the mainstream media has demonised television, the response from internet geeks and bloggers might usher in a new era of standing office furniture.

People who sit too much may be shortening their lives, concluded the author of a study by the American Cancer Society who tracked the health of 123,000 Americans between 1992 and 2006. Epidemiologist Alpa Patel found that men who spend six hours or more per day of their leisuire time sitting have an overall death rate about 20 percent higher than men who sit for three hours or less. The death rate for women who sat for more than six hours a day was about 40 percent higher.

An Australian study published last year looked at nearly 9000 Australians and found that each additional hour of television a person sat and watched, raised their risk of dying by 11 percent. Author David Dunstan analysed a range of unhealthy habits before concluding that “age, sex, education, smoking, hypertension, waist circumference, body-mass index, glucose tolerance status and leisure-time exercise did not significantly modify the associations between television viewing and all-cause...mortality.”

Many bloggers have moved to using standing desks in response to these studies pointing to the dangers of extended time in front of a screen, whether it’s a television or a computer. founding editor Gina Trapani wrote that she uses a standing desk as a way to burn calories and improve her posture:
“When I’m sitting at my desk, even in a fancy ergonomic chair, I tend to slump, with my back curved and shoulders forward, which closes my chest and makes my breathing more shallow. When standing at a desk where my forearms are at a 90 degree angle on the desk surface, my shoulders go back, which makes my spine concave and opens my chest. Besides the initial foot pain and muscle aches of engaged thighs and calves, it feels great.”

Bloggers warn the new desk arrangement includes a brutal first three days as feet and legs grow accustomed to providing extra support. “I have a foot rest rail going around the bottom (of his standing desk) -- this is pretty critical for long term comfort,” wrote Benjamin Palmer on the popular blog “I also have a stool I sit on for maybe 1/4 of the day, but the rail is really the key thing.”

Palmer also suggests that a very cheap way to get started with a standing desk is to buy a cheap coffee table and put it on top of your desk. “It’s usually just the right height, and you can get them in a wide variety of sizes and finishes to fit your gear and match your existing desk.”

Update: the contents of this blog post served as the subject of a presentation I did for the 2011 Local Government Web Network Conference in Sydney.