Why Alternative Working Environments Could Solve the Epidemic of Sedentary Lifestyles


“A lot of doctors believe that sitting is the new cancer.”

This phrase, recently spoken by Apple CEO Tim Cook, was intended to emphasize the importance of staying active throughout the day (and therefore emphasizing the usefulness of Apple’s newest healthcare venture, the “smart” Apple Watch).

Instead, as The Guardian has noted, more attention seems to be on Cook’s bizarre connection between sitting — a decision that individuals consciously make, and cancer — something that cannot be decided or consciously controlled.

Whether or not Cook’s connection misses the mark, however, it does highlight a problem that medical experts have been trying, in vain, to discuss for years: that the current lifestyles of many Americans is unhealthy on a fundamental level, simply because so much of their time is spent sitting down.

People naturally become less physically active as they age, but decreased mobility and physical ailments only play a small role here. The fact is that, in Western cultures especially, adults have become too accustomed to sedentary lifestyles no matter where they are — at the office, in front of the TV at home, on bar stools for happy hour drinks, on the uncomfortable plastic seats of the subway.

One attempt to increase the physical activity of office workers and those who work from home, LiveScience explains, was the creation of the treadmill desk.

According to a recent December 2014 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, this seemingly genius solution for sedentary office workers is not as effective as researchers had originally hoped.

Although it certainly doesn’t hurt office workers to get in a little more exercise, the challenges of a normal office environment — i.e., constant interruptions, conference table meetings, and managers who view the hybrid machines as unprofessional and cumbersome — have made it difficult for the treadmill desk to really become popular.

Perhaps, however, it’s too soon to throw away the idea of treadmill desks. If normal office interruptions are the main reasons for inactivity on the machines, as the study claims, it seems that this study didn’t take into account the plethora of American workers who perform normal office jobs outside of the office, like freelance writers and designers.

Right now, one thing is clear: it doesn’t matter how you get up and stay active — whether it’s because of a treadmill desk, an Apple Watch, or walking your dog around the block — the health risks of staying sedentary are serious, ranging from increased risk of heart attacks to diabetes. Luckily, unlike cancer, the health complications from sitting are very predictable and preventable.

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