YMCA of Central Ohio

OFFICE UPRISING ‘Standing’ desks, mobility efforts energize employees during workday

Susan Miller, as she might be found most afternoons, was on her feet. The human-resources executive — who since January has relied on a “standing” desk, with adjustable risers that lift a phone and computer screen to eye level — gushed about a dramatic shift in her mood and productivity.

“Instead of having that 2 or 3 o’clock slump, I feel energetic,” said Miller, 43, of the Arena District marketing company Resource, which offers the desk to any employee.

“It’s hard to explain until you experience it. And instead of pinging someone with an email, it’s just as easy to take the 10 steps over and have a conversation.”

A culture of movement during the often-sedentary 9-to-5 grind has become a goal for workplaces seeking to combat   habitual sitting patterns, which foster malaise, inactivity and a plethora of health-related dangers — including elevated risks of heart disease and certain types of cancer.

Could that ho-hum office job really be a hazard?

“We’ve been focusing on smoking, alcohol, exercise, stress, sleep, nutrition,” said Anup Kanodia, a family-medicine physician and researcher at the Wexner Medical Center at Ohio State University.

“I think a new and very important risk factor is the amount of time you sit.”

A wave of recent research underscores that sentiment — with results you might not want to read while sitting down.

A 14-year study by the American Cancer Society found in 2010 that men who sat for six or more hours a day of leisure time were 20 percent more likely to die than men who sat for three hours a day. The comparable rate for women: 40 percent. 

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who controlled subjects’ diets and forbade traditional exercise found that participants who didn’t gain pounds (even as food portions grew) were those who unconsciously moved more — by walking around the office, by taking the stairs, by keeping busy at home with chores or yardwork.

Based on a combined analysis of five existing studies, a July report by the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., determined that active, nonsmoking people who sit for more than three hours a day decrease their life expectancy by two years.

“Even if you go to the gym for   an hour, what about the other 23 hours of the day?” said Dr. Peter Katzmarzyk, a Pennington epidemiologist and researcher.

“People who sit less have a lower risk.”

Last month, Kanodia said, the Wexner Medical Center launched a “mobile campaign,” including standing and walking staff meetings, and a few standing desks.

In March, as part of a six-month pilot study, the New Albany offices of health-care giant Aetna were outfitted with two treadmill workstations — each $4,000 unit equipped with a phone and computer.

Based on feedback and results (a collective 172,000 calories were burned by 20 enthusiastic participants), the machines will stay and be open to any of the building’s 900-plus staff members.

A weekly treadmill routine of three 60-minute working sessions helped Sherri Morris drop two pant sizes.

“When I saw that I was losing the weight, it just motivated me   more,” said the 39-year-old, an Aetna customer-service representative who spoke while pacing at a moderate speed. “ You feel better.”

Elsewhere, corporate fitness initiatives — from screenings and health fairs to discounted gym memberships — are on the rise. Five years of annual surveys issued by the Society for Human Resource Management, based in Virginia, show a slow but continual climb.

Wellness Works, a workplace-health partnership with the YMCA of Central Ohio, has grown yearly since its 2007 inception. Among its offerings are diet counseling and classes such as lunch-hour and after-work boot camps, yoga and Zumba conducted on-site at participating central Ohio offices. 

“We have to collectively be proactive,” said Christopher Haverlock, corporate-wellness director for the YMCA.

Such investments, according to a 2010 Harvard University study, can boost profits: Company medical costs drop $3.27 in relation to every dollar spent on workplace disease-prevention and health programs.

That’s to say nothing of productivity: A study of NASA employees found that those who exercised worked at full throttle until day’s end, while others lagged during the final two hours.

Even small efforts seemingly make a big difference. 

Kanodia recommends two to five minutes of movement every half-hour — with the added suggestion of taking phone calls while standing. To stand, he said, burns 50 percent more calories than sitting.

Ensuing muscle contractions help the body pump glucose from the bloodstream as well as convert low-density lipoprotein (“bad cholesterol”) into high-density lipoprotein (“good cholesterol”) — a process that drops as much as 95 percent during long sits.

Which explains why employees at the Grange Insurance offices in the Brewery District can use the office’s 24/7 fitness center at any time during the day and after hours. A rotating schedule also features classes ranging from cardio kickboxing to meditation. 

With midday movement, “You get that break,” said Rea Jean Hix, work-life services coordinator for Grange — who noted that staff members use the honor system to balance work and workout time.

“You get that exercise, you’re refreshed, and you can continue on with your day."

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