Should Desk Chairs Go The Way Of The Smoking Lounge?

I have fond memories of smoking.

There’s something about having a cigarette with a cup of coffee that only a smoker or ex-smoker can appreciate. I enjoyed my cigarettes until I woke up one day and realized that they had the potential to kill me. So I quit twenty-odd years ago and never looked back.

Sitting is the New Smoking

If you haven’t heard sitting is the new smoking according to Runner’s World. Even those who exercise regularly are not immune to the health hazards of long commutes, hours spent watching TV, and averaging eight-plus-hours a day at a desk. Spending all this time sitting has been linked to everything from cancer to heart disease to depression.

In the Runner’s World article, Travis Saunders, a PhD student and certified exercise physiologist at the Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, said “Up until very recently, if you exercised for 60 minutes or more a day, you were considered physically active, case closed. Now a consistent body of emerging research suggests it is entirely possible to meet current physical activity guidelines while still being incredibly sedentary, and that sitting increases your risk of death and disease, even if you are getting plenty of physical activity. It’s a bit like smoking. Smoking is bad for you even if you get lots of exercise. So is sitting too much.”

So much for daily walks on the treadmill.

With health care costs expected to increase by nine percent this year and the ongoing expense of workplace absenteeism, employers may want to consider stepping up their employee wellness efforts. A good start would be helping desk-bound employees build a little activity into their day.

One solution is to give employees the option of an active desk chair. There are a variety of models from the Swopper, an adjustable stool which encourages movement while you’re sitting, to the less costly Gaiam Classic Balance Ball Chair, which engages your core while ensuring the “balance ball” doesn’t roll away.  With chairs in every price range this might be relatively inexpensive option.

While somewhat more costly, employers who want to ensure even more activity may want to offer employees a standing desk. There are plenty to choices from the UpDesk UpWrite, a motorized standing/sitting desk that can even accommodate a treadmill, to the more modestly priced VARIDESK Pro, a full-standing workstation which attaches to a desktop. To determine if a standing desk is a viable option before making an investment it might be wise to try a DIY version which can be as simple as putting a box or table on top of an existing desk.

Ready, Set, Stand!

Many companies are already on board with standing desks. While some provide standing options only to employees with a doctor’s note, Google provides them to employees as part of their employee-wellness program. Standing desk supporters say that using the desks increases energy and productivity.

Employers who are not quite ready to fund active desk chairs and/or standing desks can take advantage of a free and easy option. Have employees stand during meetings. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri found that teams who stood while working together were more engaged and creative than those who were seated around a table. They also found that the standing teams were more willing to collaborate and less protective of their ideas. This research supports other studies which found that walking boosts creativity and standing while working may make employees more productive.

Despite the health benefits, providing active chairs and/or standing desks to employees is a financial investment. However, giving standing meetings a try is not. While this tactic might not work for longer meetings standing for 30-minutes or less might be a great way to add a little activity to everyone’s day. And that’s not a bad thing.

(About the Author: Annette Richmond, MA is a writer, optimist, media enthusiast and executive editor of Having changed careers several times, including working as a career coach, she has a unique perspective on career management. When starting over a decade ago, her goal was to provide a one-stop online career resource.

In addition to being a writer, speaker and consultant, Richmond contributes career-related articles to various other sites including ForbesWoman. She holds a BA in English from Sacred Heart University and a MA in Applied Psychology from Fairfield University. She resides in Rowayton, CT, with her husband, Eric, and their four-legged kids.)

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