Standing Question: Could Sitting Too Long At Work Be Dangerous?

Doctors say sitting too long is the new smoking.

October 20, 2010, 11:40 AM

October 21, 2010 — -- Work can be back-breaking; hours spent hunched over at a computer with all the pressure resting in your neck. But what if you worked standing up?

Those who stand at work say that it helps them stay focused, avoid feeling they need a nap in the afternoon and even helps them shed pounds. Famous figures like Donald Rumsfeld and novelist Philip Roth have done it for years. And now some doctors say that you should do it too.

Marc Hamilton, a physiologist at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana, discovered that when he prevented lab mice from standing up, an enzyme that burns fat gets turned off, which can lead to weight gain.

"This enzyme is virtually shut off within hours of not standing, completely independent of diet, completely independent of weight changes," Hamilton said. "I think sitting is very dangerous."

That research prompted Hamilton to speak out that our culture of sitting is unhealthy.

Hamilton isn't the only doctor standing up to sitting down.

A study published by the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that sitting for long stretches, more than six hours a day, can make someone at least 18 percent more likely to die from diabetes, heart disease and obesity than those sitting less than three hours a day.

Doctors say the evolution of technology has impacted the way we use our bodies. Humans have moved from the active life of being hunter-gatherers to becoming agriculturalists. The Industrial Revolution moved us to factories and the technological revolution landed us behind desks and into the culture of sitting too much.

"Sitting has become the most common human behavior, literally, it outstrips the amount of time we spend sleeping," Hamilton said.

Hamilton said that sitting has become a new form of smoking. Smoking was once so common that people were reluctant to see the health hazard it posed.

Sitting Too Much Is Like Smoking

"Smoking and sitting too much have some striking parallels," Hamilton said. "Decades ago smoking was so common that everyone perceived that ... not only was it an acceptable behavior, but that there was safety in numbers."

The culture of sitting too much has made some people slow to stand up and start moving.

One office in Minneapolis, Minn. is rebelling against a sedentary work environment.

While some people can't stand working, Amy Langer and John Folkestad work while standing in their office, SALO. ABC News first met them in 2008 when they decided to step away from their desks.

"I have ADD and standing and moving at work makes me focus and feel energetic," Folkestad said.

Treadmill Desks and Walking Meetings

When ABC News first visited SALO in 2008, the fun-loving employment placement firm was growing as fast as their employees' waistlines.

"There's always an abundance of food," Langer said. "We're a high energy group."

The average SALO employee put on ten pounds their first year in the company. Obesity expert Dr. Jim Levine moved his research lab into the offices of SALO, launching a six-month study to see if a moving office could actually help workers lose weight.

Levine brought in treadmill desks. Walking at around one mile per hour, Folkestad and Langer answer phones, respond to emails and even hold walking meetings.

"This is simple. It's easy as walking and chewing gum," Langer said of the treadmill desks.

Langer, a mom of three, lost the baby weight she piled on after having three kids in four years. She's gone down three dress sizes. Fokestad dropped 24 pounds. In fact, every worker at the company has lost and kept their weight off.

Dr. Levine said to forget those old desks-- a standing, moving office worker is the employee of the future.

"If we can create a world where offices are doing better and the employees are becoming healthier, we've got a golden solution."

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