Unless you live under a rock you have probably heard that “Sitting is the New Smoking” or maybe that “Your Chair is Killing You.” We can thank James Levine of the Mayo Clinic for really bringing this subject into the spotlight back in 2014 when he published his research on NEAT, Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. NEAT is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise.
Dr. Levine was able to stimulate awareness around the fact that we sit a lot and that it is affecting all civilized societies. We sit during our morning commute, we sit at our desk, we sit in meetings, we sit at lunch, we drive home, we sit at the dinner table or restaurant, and then we sit and watch TV. And then we do it again the next day, and the next day… you get the point!
This societal pattern has emerged as we have moved out of the industrial revolution where we worked in factories and were on our feet much more often. This was preceded by the agrarian period where we were doing back breaking work in the fields. Fast forward to today where we have become an information based society resulting in many of us sitting at desks all day and not benefitting from the physical movement of working in the field or in a factory.
Dr. Levine has said, “Chair-living has proven so enticing that we have forsaken our legs. It is now time to find ways to get us back onto our legs.” Where this research really got Dr. Levine’s attention was the correlation between the lack of movement over several generations and the dramatic increase in obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and other potentially very damaging health issues… all good reasons to think seriously about this subject!
The Scandinavians caught on to this some time ago. As an example, in Denmark the government has mandated that all office workers must have a height adjustable desk (sometimes called a standing desk… more on this later). In the early 1980’s some very early adopters began experimenting with these new desks but they were generally considered odd or not practical and, of course, back then having a desk job was a privilege and sitting all day was thought to be one of the benefits of getting an education… this falls into the category of unintended consequences!