It didn't take a chiropractor to convince Christy Taylor that sitting all day is bad for her health. She could feel it in every creak of her neck and cramp in her shoulders.
"I used to get headaches, and I think it was caused by my neck and back pain," she says. "I just was scrunched over."
But Taylor did doubt her chiropractor's advice to adjust her office workstation so she could stand up or sit down. Such a simple solution couldn't make that much difference, thought Taylor, development services administrator for the city of Medford's Building Safety Department.
"I wasn't a believer at first, but I am now."
Since raising her desk late last year to accommodate standing up, Taylor says she no longer needs chiropractic adjustments and feels like her workday is more productive. As numerous city employees on the second floor of the city's Lausmann Annex favor such ergonomic retrofits, cubicles are becoming spots for standing, not sitting.
"It just feels good," says Debbie Strigle administrative-support technician for the city's planning department. "Sitting all day doesn't work."
A chiropractic patient for 25 years, Strigle, along with many other members of the country's sedentary sector, suffers from the so-called "sitting disease," which experts say causes not only chronic pain but is a factor in the soaring rates of obesity and diabetes in the United States. By standing instead of sitting for two and a half hours every day, desk-bound employees would burn up to 350 additional calories per day, reduce their health care costs and perform better at their jobs, according to Mayo Clinic endocrinologist James Levine.
It's no secret that sitting for hours at a time — whether on a couch or in front of a computer — results in stiffness. That sensation arises from muscle fibers and connective tissues contracting during periods of inactivity. When it adapts to a sedentary lifestyle, the body produces less of its natural lubricating substances, so tissues become dry, shortened, inflexible and much more likely to tear, according to a recent article in Adventure Sports Weekly. Lack of movement also reduces blood supply to the bones, making them more brittle and fragile.
"The human body's not made to sit," says Jared Hill, ergonomic consultant for Asante Work Health in Medford.
Lower-back pain is among cubicle dwellers' most common complaints, says Hill, because sitting flattens out the spine's natural S-curve and puts 10 times the compression forces on vertebrae than standing. Circulation is hampered in legs pressed against the edge of a seat, he adds.
Sitting's silent assault on health led Levine to coin the hot new phrase "sitting is the new smoking." The physician and other researchers are conducting several experiments around the world that entail workplace interventions. In Minneapolis, the desks of 30 employees for a maker of environment-friendly cleaning supplies were replaced with adjustable "work-fit" stations. Developed by Ergotron of St. Paul, Minn., they give employees the option to sit or stand while working on their computers.