Like many 20-somethings working at progressive companies, financial analyst Meredith Taylor was quick to try out the walking treadmill desks at her Benefitfocus office on Daniel Island, becoming both a fan of and ambassador for the cutting-edge office furniture.
'I'm a really active person, so it gives an opportunity to get up and move around while I'm still working,' says Taylor, noting that her job conventionally would require her to sit for long periods of time. 'At first, I was thinking that I could only do certain tasks while I was walking, but I found I could even type and do all sorts of spreadsheets.'
She adds that some employees didn't try the treadmill until after seeing her on it and asking her questions about how to operate it.
'People are often nervous about the unknown,' she says.
Despite a recent barrage of studies (see accompanying box) noting the health risks of sedentary jobs, notably sitting for long periods of time, the main supplier of alternative desks in the Charleston area has not experienced an uptick in interest or sales of stand-up or treadmill desks.
'The word is not filtering out much here,' says Joe Tarr, furniture division manager for Wulbern-Koval Co., which locally represents Steelcase, the largest manufacturer of office furniture in the United States.
While Tarr thinks larger cities with Fortune 1000 companies will be quicker to embrace alternative desks, he says not many local companies have purchased them from Wulbern-Koval.
'It may become more popular in the future,' says Tarr.
John Cay, vice chairman of Wells Fargo Insurance Services in Charleston, has been standing at his desk for 40 years and has a 'stand-up, sit-down desk' at his office at Albemarle Point. While he's interested in health and in recent studies about the risks of sitting, he was honest about his original reason for standing.
'I inherently thought you think better standing up than sitting down. I don't like sitting around,' says the 66-year-old. 'By now, I think it (standing rather than sitting) is habit for me, but let's not confuse habit with wisdom,' he jokes.
Cay, a regular bicyclist who works out daily, has had some influence on his sons, both of whom work at stand-up desks, and thinks that as the business world moves away from the 9-to-5 work model, it also will move away from sitting at desks all day.
Walking the walk
Charleston-based Dr. Ann Kulze, author of 'Eat Right for Life,' is well-known locally for practicing what she preaches, and after reading multiple studies, she's been preaching and practicing a lot these days about standing up at work.
She had her son, Jack, build her a platform for her desk that allows her to stand up and work. The results have been tangible.
First and foremost, she says her posture has improved, and neck pain, which had become a daily issue after just a few hours of sitting, has disappeared. She reports having better focus and thinks 'better on my feet.'
'I also move more readily — getting a drink of water, going to a file cabinet, using the bathroom — because I am already up, which has helped me accumulate more physical activity over my workday,' says Kulze. 'I know it is better for my health, which makes me feel that much better about my workday.'
In the past year, several studies have been published warnings of the health risks of sitting for long periods of time, whether it's at a desk job or on the couch. Here are a few studies:
American Cancer Society
The latest came last week with a study from the American Cancer Society noting that no matter how much physical activity you get, the amount of time spent sitting increases your risk of death.
Researchers analyzed survey responses from 123,216 individuals (53,440 men and 69,776 women) who had no history of cancer, heart attack, stroke or emphysema/other lung disease enrolled in the American Cancer Society's Cancer Prevention II study in 1992. They examined the amount of time spent sitting and physical activity in relation to mortality between 1993 and 2006.
Women who reported more than six hours per day of sitting were 37 percent more likely to die during the time period studied than those who sat fewer than three hours a day.
Men who sat more than six hours a day were 18 percent more likely to die than those who sat fewer than 3 hours per day. The association remained virtually unchanged after adjusting for the physical activity level. Associations were stronger for cardiovascular disease mortality than for cancer mortality.
Fidgeting at your desk typically has a bad rap, but apparently, "non-purposeful physical activity" is good for your health.
Researchers at Queens University School of Kinesiology and Health Studies in Kingston, Ontario, measured the duration and intensity of these sorts of movements and tested cardiorespiratory fitness levels of 43 men and 92 women who were inactive and obese.
The intensity of the activity seems to be particularly important, with a cumulative 30-minute increase in moderate physical activity throughout the day offering fitness benefits, the researchers reported in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the journal of the American College of Sports Medicine.
University College London
A University College London study of 4,512 respondents of the 2003 Scottish Health Survey shows that spending too much time in front of the computer screen or TV appears to dramatically increase the risk for heart disease and premature death from any cause, perhaps regardless of how much exercise one gets. The study was published in the Jan. 18 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Data show that compared with people who spend less than two hours each day on screen-based entertainment such as watching TV, using the computer or playing video games, those who devote more than four hours to these activities are more than twice as likely to have a major cardiac event that involves hospitalization, death or both. These associations were independent of traditional risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, body mass index, social class and exercise.
The study, the first to examine the association between screen time and nonfatal as well as fatal cardiovascular events, also suggests metabolic factors and inflammation may partly explain the link between prolonged sitting and the risks to heart health.
Reach David Quick at 937-5516.