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Standing workspaces promote good health


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SALT LAKE CITY — At his new workstation everything Dr. Chris Wood once did sitting, he now does standing while walking very slowly on a treadmill. A telephone, computer keyboard, pencils, pads, papers — everything you'd find on a conventional desk are on this new generation workspace.

"I feel a lot more energetic," he said. "It's funny. You would think you would spend all your energy at the standing desk during the day, feeling tired in the afternoon and evening. But that's not the case. I find I have more get up and go."

Wood made the change following a back injury. He found it difficult sitting in a chair for any length of time.

"Since I've been walking that pain is gone," he said. "Even when I sit for a while in a meeting, I just don't have the pain or stiffness anymore."

Down the hall at Intermountain Healthcare, Wood's co-worker Joan Golden stands and walks as well.

First and second year medical students at the University of Utah are standing and walking.

By the numbers
  • The average person takes 1,000 to 3,000 steps a day
  • The US Surgeon General recommends taking 10,000 steps a day (approx. 5 miles)
  • You must burn 3500 calories to lose one pound of body weight
  • Walking at 1 MPH will burn 2.6 calories per minute (156 cal/hr)
  • At 1 MPH with a 5.0 incline will burn 3.6 calories per minute (216 cal/hr)

At Rowland Hall, Headmaster Alan Sparrow hopes his standing workspace sends a message to students.

"You need to give a message that they need to move," Sparrow said. "Movement is good. Movement is healthy. Movement helps. I often refer to a book called ‘Brain Rules' that talks about how exercise actually helps your mind develop."

Who knows, for many students like Jimmy and Anna who on this day were watching Sparrow at his novel workspace, sitting desks may become obsolete someday.

So why all this standing?

New studies are sobering, if not downright frightening, about what happens when we sit all day in our office spaces.

One researcher, Marc Hamilton, bluntly says when we sit our muscles become as silent as a dead horse: Our calories burning rate drops dramatically. Insulin effectiveness falls within a single day. The enzyme that vacuums fat out of the bloodstream plunges.

Dr. Liz Joy, who heads Intermountain Healthcare's Clinical Outcomes Research and other Utah studies, says our metabolism simply bottoms out. If we sit day after day, we're increasing the risk for diabetes, coronary artery disease, stroke and hypertension.

But, she adds, "if somebody gets up and moves just a couple of minutes out of every twenty- or sixty-minute segment of their day, they lower their glucose and insulin levels. We need to re-engineer activity back into our lifestyle."

Those like Sparrow, who've made the conversion, claim it's a piece of cake. The slow walking, one point two miles per hour or less, becomes imperceptible.

"It took me about five minutes," he said. "Within five minutes I was typing almost as fast as if I wasn't moving at all."

According to new data collected from national test groups this year, even 30 minutes of rigorous exercise will not reverse the downfall from sitting five to six hours per day at the office.

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Ed Yeats

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