Sponsored by SitOnIt Seating
While no one has abandoned the green building bandwagon in favor of human health (far from
it), the connections between them are becoming
clearer, and wellness is now among the most
influential trends shaping the architecture and
design industry. According to a recent survey of
more than 200 design practitioners, wellness and
sustainability are ranked among the top three trends for the industry in
2015/20163. Further, a recent report from Gensler revealed that 87 percent
of U.S. employees believe wellness positively impacts work culture—up 10
percent from 20134.
And there’s documented evidence for this shift toward health and
wellness, particularly in office settings. A study conducted last year by
Dodge Data, “The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings,” points out how design
can help mitigate absences and ailments by employing such proven methods
and practices as incorporating natural ventilation, access to daylighting
and lighting to mimic circadian rhythms, access to outside views, proper
lighting, low-VOC (volatile organic compound) products, and ergonomic
design, among others5.
“As this example shows,” noted Sandy Gordon, MFA, FASID, LEED AP in a
recent ASID article6, “health and wellness are just one area where designers
can achieve positive impacts and transform lives.”
Perhaps nowhere is the connection between wellness and interiors
as evident as in seating. New research clearly demonstrates how seating
is inextricably linked to health, and designers who hope to make a positive
impact on the well-being of their clients would do well to understand the
correlations between them.
There’s a catchphrase being repeated these days that claims “sitting is the
new smoking.” The question is—is it true? Surely, sitting can’t possibly be as
detrimental to our health as regularly lighting up a smoke. Or can it?
At the risk of sounding alarmist, the answer is simple: yes, sitting too
often can lead to premature death. A study published in the American
Journal of Epidemiology found that a man who sits more than six hours per
day has an 18 percent increased risk of dying from heart disease and a 7. 8
percent increased chance of dying from diabetes compared with someone
who sits for three hours or less in a day.
It gets worse.
In a recent Huffington Post blog7, Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo
Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative and inventor of the
treadmill desk summed up his findings in two sentences: “Sitting is more
dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous
than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.”
Of course, we all know that we sit a bit more often than we should, but
how inactive are we really? In a 2012 study published in the International
Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers reported
that people spent an average of 64 hours per week sitting, 28 hours standing,
and 11 hours milling about (non-exercise walking).
“Yes, but I exercise regularly, so I’m not at risk,” you say. That’s great (and
keep it up), but unfortunately, you’re not immune, either.
According to an article in Runner’s World 8, although vigorous exercise
such as running does a lot of good, those health benefits depreciate if you
spend the majority of your time in a seated position. In fact, the article cites a
12-year study of more than 17,000 Canadians in which researchers concluded
that the more time people spent sitting, the earlier they died—regardless of
age, body weight, or how much they exercised.
The medical reasons for such sobering statistics are pretty instructive:
“While we’re sitting, our metabolism drops 90 percent, good cholesterol
drops 20 percent, the muscles in the lower half of our body turn off, and
the way some of the insulin in our bodies is produced is less efficient, so it
contributes to heart disease and diabetes,” noted Carol Rickard-Brideau,
president of Little Architects. “It’s really important for us to get up every 30
minutes, even if it’s to get up for 5 minutes and walk across the office to get
a cup of coffee.” 9
As a result of the evidence linking a sedentary lifestyle with negative health
outcomes, a number of furniture and seating manufacturers have introduced
a variety of sit-to-stand desking solutions that enable office employees to
adjust the height of their desks and either stand or perch on stools. Some have
even designed treadmill desks that allow users to exercise without leaving the
comfort of the office. Are these products effective solutions or just superficial
gimmicks that leverage real concerns with health and wellness?
While sit-to-stand desks address a legitimate need, the answer to the
question depends on how they are used and how frequently. But make no
mistake: reducing the time a person remains seated has clear benefits.
An article in Officing Today cited a 12-week study by Alfred Health, in