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How your office chair is killing you

'We are sitting ourselves to death,' a doctor says in a new book, and obesity isn't the only risk.

By MSN Money producer Aug 19, 2014 3:16PM

By Hamza Ali, CNBC CNBC


Standing while you read this could do something toward saving your life, according to Dr. James Levine, whose new book reveals how he came to the scientific conclusion that our chairs are killing us.


"Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death," says Levine, a professor of medicine at the U.S.-based Mayo Clinic, in his book "Get Up!: Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It."

Levine's claims are based on a study of "non-exercise activity thermogenesis" or NEAT, which is the amount of energy we use doing everything except sleeping, eating and exercise. NEAT activities include going to work, shoveling snow and taking a walk -- and the more active your job is, the more NEAT calories you burn.


"Those individuals who are lean are up and walking about 2¼ more hours a day than those individuals who are obese," Levine said in an online seminar last week.


And although these extra couple of hours may contain a relatively small amount of movement, they have huge health implications, according to Levine -- and obesity isn't the only possible consequence.


Low NEAT is linked to, among other things, weight gain, diabetes, heart attacks and cancer, he said.


Active workplaces  

Standing offices and classrooms -- with high desks that keep you on your feet -- are one way to address low NEAT, according to Levine. He argued that workplaces in which people stand and move about have more productive workforces.


Close-up of businesswoman suffering from a neck ache © Eric Audras/Getty Images"What is critically important is that companies that deploy these types of programs show increased hardcode productivity of around 11 percent," he said.


The doctor also pointed to studies run in more active classrooms across Sweden, Germany and the U.S. which found "on average, kid's grades improve 10-15 percent against (average) equivalent child equivalents".


Taking a stand against standing?

The standing office has come under fire from some quarters, however, with critics arguing that standing at your desk all day has its own negative health implications.


Research by the Toronto Workers Health & Safety Centre found that standing for prolonged periods could lead to, among other things, sore backs, feet and varicose veins.


The New York Times Magazine columnist Dan Kois, who underwent a month-long standing experiment, also highlighted possible social problems with the standing desk in an article entitled "Sitting, the great leveler."


"From the lowliest peasant to the mightiest pharaoh, who doesn't enjoy a good sit?" Kois wrote, quoting Mr. Burns from "The Simpsons." "I had never really thought about the social implications of standing versus sitting until this month brought them to the fore."


But for those who prefer to take a seat, all is not lost, with a recent study indicating that exercise may offset the dangers of sitting. According to researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center, one hour of physical exercise could counteract the effects of sitting for six to seven hours a day.


More from CNBC

Aug 19, 2014 3:51PM

"Sitting is more dangerous than smoking" ?

Can a move to ban sitting be just around the corner ?


Reading stories on MSN is hazardous to your sanity.

Aug 19, 2014 4:51PM
If sitting is killing us than please explain how all those Supreme Court Judges get to live so long ? 
Aug 19, 2014 8:13PM
If all the things they claim are bad for you were true, there wouldn't be anyone left on the planet.
Aug 19, 2014 5:26PM
As usual we have an incomplete assessment of the topic(alleged problem).  This article/doctor makes the assumption that people who are sitting are "inactive".  There are more variables in this equation that need to be considered before making his assumption.  But, it makes for fodder for his new book.
Aug 19, 2014 5:55PM
I'm just glad I happen to have been sitting at my desk when I came across this life-saving article!
I should stay here in my desk chair for several more hours and compile a list of articles that'll help me save my life. *continues trolling*

Aug 19, 2014 5:38PM
This is just another 'you're damned if you do, you're damned if you don't.' Ugh! What was good yesterday is going to kill you today. It never ends.. Just do whatever you feel is right for you and you'll be just fine. Everyone one of these so-called experts usually die before they reach 70 anyway!
Aug 19, 2014 10:03PM
Since msn has started ONLY allowing readers to comment on a few select fluffy stories and their "Money" articles, I have noticed that even so, if one of these articles does not reflect positively on President Obama and his policies, they revoke the ability to comment on that story.  They only want us to comment on cheery happy stories concerning our leader! 
Aug 19, 2014 5:14PM
Being inactive for all or most of the day is of course going to damage your health and may end up being a contributing factor in whatever health problem ends up killing you (unless of course if you die by getting hit by a truck or shot in the chest or whatever). This isn't exactly new information.

And being inactive leads to you being less productive? Duh. That's the same reason why it's so hard to fall asleep right when you go to bed and so hard to get moving right when you wake up: "A body at rest tends to stay at rest and a body in motion tends to stay in motion". If you stay sitting, you're gonna be sluggish. If you stay moving, you're gonna be energized and therefore, more productive. We already knew this.

Everyone knows moving around keeps you healthier and helps you live longer and obviously sitting at a desk hunched over a keyboard 8 hrs a day, 5 days a week isn't helping your health any. (Ironic that as I'm writing this I am currently sitting at a desk I sit at 8 hrs a day 5 days a week, hunched over a keyboard, eh?)

But this is all old news.
Aug 19, 2014 7:20PM
Hey, hows come msn won't allow us to comment on the other article in Money; Audit: Obamacare tax unpaid?  We heard that train a comin', it rolled 'round the bend...............and we had a train wreck people!!!
Aug 20, 2014 12:00AM
you and everyone else is going to die no matter what you do. so have as much fun without all this ****.
Aug 19, 2014 7:10PM

If I had to do over again, I would never get a career that requires sitting (or standing, that causes problems too) , it has ruined my overall health from back problems, pelvic muscle and knee breaks you down over the years.  Working out a few hours or even everyday will not counteract the problems from sitting all day. Our entire workplace foundation is based on sitting in a building or a enclosed tomb-- it's crazy. Instead of looking for a career, look first for work that combines sitting/standing and/or moving around a lot; police officer, national park ranger, oceanographer, sales--- anything that gets you moving around outside and some indoor seating for no more then a few hours.



Aug 19, 2014 9:49PM

Standing too long is not good for your joins either.

Just find the balance between the two.

Aug 20, 2014 7:32AM
There will be a federal mandate to make all offices standing offices "for the good, and health of the people".  Then there will be a federally funded study five years later on the dangers and health implications of standing all day.  
Aug 19, 2014 4:56PM
WARNING ;; believe'n  msn propaganda can make you look even more retarded...said the guy running in place while write'n a comment...of all the things we got to worry bout...obummer will probably declare office chair racing the leading cause of death in cigar smokers...
Aug 19, 2014 10:21PM
Obama, and his democrat parasites are destroying America, and all MSN can come up with is sitting in a chair is unhealthy. Give us a news story we can put our opinion on besides chairs, and other trivial BS.
Aug 20, 2014 8:09AM
Aug 19, 2014 6:05PM

Due to a back injury I had to start standing all day at work.  It hurt way more to sit than stand.  The first couple of weeks were tough, but by the 6th or 7th month I was used to it.  I am definitely way more healthy, have more energy, and get complimented for it by my peers. 

To the point of what do you do when someone else is in the office?  Well if someone comes in then I sit.  I was always under the impression that when you are dealing with people its much easier at eye level.  Not that hard to overcome.

Nowadays spent half my time between standing and sitting (thank the maker) but I will say after a while I am just antsy and have to stand.  To those that are saying its propaganda its not, but the way the article is written it gives off that impression.  There are a lot more articles and health documents that could have been included that describe what you do for the predominate portion of the day (I.E. desk jockey vs Construction worker) is an independent factor to your mortality ( so if the desk jockey works out every day and the the construction worker does not, one does not have the advantage over the other in this instance).

Aug 20, 2014 9:16AM
OMG!  - I'm Lubed, Screwed and Tattooed .... I'm seventy years old , sitting here at my desk in the office clinching my chest -- I should have been standing for the past five decades!!!!!  Good bye cruel world. 
Aug 20, 2014 1:38AM
By far, the biggest contributor to peoples' health is the food they are eating. All the GMOs that are in our foods (we should all boycott Monsanto which has many gov't officials connected to it), is what's killing us. If we went to 100% non-GMO foods in America, I guarantee the overall health of Americans would improve tremendously. That and getting people off of all the prescription drugs the pharmaceutical companies are bribing doctors to prescribe to everyone. 
Aug 19, 2014 5:31PM
So, if the doctor's assumptions are correct, then it must be unhealthy to sleep more than 8 hours a night - right? 
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