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More workers stand up for their health

By Karen Burkett - Mcclatchy Newspapers - | Jun 3, 2012

MIAMI — When Citrix Systems redesigned its Fort Lauderdale, Fla., offices last fall, managers had a mission in mind: Kick-start creativity by getting employees to talk more and sit less.

The new layout encourages workers to move around, incorporating open areas and fewer walls. In a common area, there’s a large meeting table that employees have nicknamed the “ideation” table. Employees stand there, chatting and sketching ideas onto its whiteboard surface, much like they would mill around a kitchen island at a party, minus the cocktails. Standing is the preferred posture, part of a workplace movement to reverse the health consequences of a sedentary lifestyle.

“We started off trying to design a workplace that would push creativity, but there’s no question, we found ways to make our offices a better place for health,” says Guy Desautels, vice president of facilities and real estate for Citrix, which produces mobile and workplace technologies .

A number of studies have linked a sedentary lifestyle with greater health complications, including higher mortality rates. A study conducted by the American Cancer Society, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2010, looked at 123,216 individuals who had no risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke or lung disease and monitored their physical activity and time spent sitting over a 14-year period. The findings suggested women who sat more than six hours a day were 37 percent more likely to die prematurely than women who sat just three hours a day. For men, the mortality rate was 18 percent higher for those who sat more than six hours a day, compared with sitting just three hours a day.

“It used to be that you had to get up to go to a co-worker’s desk, but now you can instant-message them, you can pick up the phone, you can send them an email. You don’t actually have to be active,” said Dr. Alpa Patel, the study’s author. She added that taking short breaks from sitting time, even as little as two to five minutes, has significant health benefits. Patel now sits on an exercise ball.

“Sitting at a desk for long periods of time isn’t good for you,” said Dr. Robert Schwartz, chair of family medicine and community health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. While Schwartz says a standing desk wouldn’t work for everyone — some might suffer with hip or knee pain — he says standing does offer an element of physical strengthening to it.

“You’re using more muscles, and you’re unconsciously shifting your weight,” said Schwartz.

That study and other reports changed the way employees at Facebook conduct their workdays. Of the 3,000 employees at Facebook, there are now more than 350 standing desks available to them. The company also says it receives five to 10 requests for standing desks a week.

In addition to the standing “ideation” table at Citrix Systems, the company has ordered four standing desks to be spread around its Fort Lauderdale, Fla., headquarters. The company’s offices in Silicon Valley are furnished with about 10 standing desks.

Standing at a desk was a habit Dr. Keri Livingstone, a Miami Shores, Fla., pediatrician, developed by accident. She inherited a standing desk when she moved into her office. While Livingstone said she was happy to read the new studies, she said so far she can’t personally confirm huge health benefits. She says she moves around the office a lot more because she stands for a larger part of her day.

The IKEA store in Sunrise, Fla., sells some standing desks, but managers say sales aren’t anywhere close to what they are in Europe, where customers have embraced adjustable hydraulic desks to improve posture and circulation. “They’ll work for a little while sitting down, then they’ll stand up for a while,” said Charles Wing, Ikea business manager. “Ergonomically, it works.”

Mason Reed, an executive vice president and managing director at Coconut Grove, Fla.-based advertising agency CPB, switched to a standing desk last year. He felt he was spending too much time sitting in front of computers and that his posture wasn’t always the best. But after he learned he’d burn a few extra calories standing, he was sold on the habit.

“It just seemed like such a simple change, a small contribution to my health,” said Reed, who also exercises regularly with a routine of cardio, weights and golf. Reed’s office now has a standing desk and a couch, where he takes sitting breaks and holds meetings.


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