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Sitting down on the job could mean years off your life

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Office jobs just took on more danger than workers may have considered.

It’s not just back pain and swollen ankles brought on by office chairs and desk work. American Cancer Society researchers found the amount of time people spend sitting can affect their risk of death.

American Cancer Society researchers reported in a study “it’s not just how much physical activity you get, but how much time you spend sitting that can affect your risk of death.” Sitting, the American Cancer Society reported, may actually shorten a person’s average life span.

Researchers said “time spent sitting was independently associated with total mortality, regardless of physical activity level. They conclude that public health messages should promote both being physically active and reducing time spent sitting.”

The 2010 American Cancer Society study results are online in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The research analyzed responses from 53,440 men and 69,776 women who had no history of cancer, heart attack, stroke or specific lung diseases. When sitting was combined with a lack of physical activity, the research found 94 percent of women and 48 percent of men were more likely to die compared to those who reported sitting the least and being most active.

Long periods of sitting were shown to have metabolic consequences, the American Cancer Society reported, including issues of cholesterol, blood pressure, obesity, cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.

A 2008 Vanderbilt University study of 6,300 people estimated the average American spends 7.7 hours a day in sedentary behavior such as sitting, in the car, in the office, in the recliner at home.

At Deerwood Technologies, Gladys Behymer and Jason Pryzmus share office space. But they aren’t typically sitting down. Both have work stations that glide to standing and sitting positions. They help customers integrate those work stations into their offices and have installed many at hospitals and call centers. Customers have included Mayo Clinic, Cuyuna Regional Medical Center and Lakewood Health System.

“The first day or two, your legs are kind of stiff,” Behymer said. She stands on a cushioned mat and walks in place while she’s working. Behymer has a desktop for papers on her stand along with her computer and keyboard. Before the conversion to standing, she estimates she walked 1,000 steps a day. By mid-afternoon recently she was already at 2,400 steps. She estimates she stands 75-80 percent of her work day now.

“I really like it,” Behymer said of the standing option. “It helps me feel better. I wasn’t so tired when I went home at night.”

Pryzmus said a battery pack means there is also an option for an Ergotron portable standing desk on wheels.

Pryzmus, an admitted fidgeter, stands 90 percent of the time at his desk. He said the result has been less fatigue although with young children at home he added being tired is just part of the family package. But, he said, the back pain he felt after sitting for a long time isn’t something he notices much anymore.

The sit-stand computing option have multiple choices to include a laptop or dual monitors and may range in price from $450 to $600. A Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry safety grant program with a dollar-for-dollar match up to $10,000 for qualifying employers offers to assist with ergonomic improvements. reported standing even a little more each day “tones muscles, improves posture, increases blood flow, ramps up metabolism and burns extra calories.”

Pointing to research results, points to excessive amounts of sitting affects the body’s metabolic system that even workouts or gym-time may not overcome.

“For people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking,” said Martha Grogan, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist, in a Wall Street Journal article on beating heart attacks.

RENEE RICHARDSON, senior reporter, may be reached at 855-5852 or Follow on Twitter at

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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