The growing body of evidence on the health risks of sitting for hours on
end has a lot of exercise pros wondering: Should we encourage clients to
use standup desks or workstations that allow moderate physical activity?

Emerging research suggests it’s worth a try.

This requires some rethinking of our traditional focus on developing
exercise programs to improve physiological health and musculoskeletal
strength. Just last month, this magazine offered an in-depth research
review linking higher levels of exercise with reduced risk for nearly
three dozen harmful conditions and life-threatening diseases (Morton &
Kravitz 2016). Focusing on formal exercise programs is fine, but in
recent years we’ve also seen a paradigm shift toward improving health by
boosting lifestyle activity and physical movement throughout the day
(Pate, O’Neill & Lobelo 2008).

Now, exercise professionals are adding strategies for combating
sedentary behaviors like watching too much TV or playing too many video
games. Indeed, one of the best targets of these efforts is the hours
employees spend at a seated workstation. A relatively new area of
research, presented in this column, explores workstation alternatives to
the traditional office chair and desktop.

The Work Chair: 
Dependable and Lethal

Levine (2010) points out that while our bodies are made to move, we live
in a chair-dependent society. Sitting is not bad in moderation, he says,
but modern lifestyles have made sitting excessive and harmful.
Tudor-Locke et al. (2014) also note that the U.S. shift toward
desk-based, sedentary occupations in the past 50 years is associated
with weight gain trends.

Levine says the research shows that daily, sustained chair dependency
correlates with shorter life spans, metabolic diseases and
cardiovascular disease. His solution is simple: People should get up
more during their waking hours. Levine asserts that repeated, frequent
bouts of “low-intensity meandering-style activity” can effectively
combat the ill effects of sitting all day.

What Are the 
Workstation Alternatives?

There are four main alternatives to the traditional, computer-based

  1. Replace the office chair with a stability ball.
  2. Change the desk height, mechanically or electronically, to allow for
    periodic standing (with an adjustable sit-stand desk) or continuous
    standing (with a fixed standing desk).
  3. Change the desk height to create a treadmill desk.
  4. Incorporate an under-desk elliptical/stepper/pedaling device to make a
    pedal desk (Tudor-Locke et al. 2014). The pedal desk design requires
    little to no desk adjustment, as the worker can either pedal and sit
    or just sit and work.

Stability ball seats and standing desks are classified as “static”
workstations because movement is mostly confined to body weight shifts
and postural adjustments (Tudor-Locke et al. 2014). Treadmill and pedal
desks are categorized as “active” workstations because they promote
low-intensity rhythmic movement.

To read more about how standup desks and alternative workstations can help clients shed the shackles of a sedentary workday, please see “Redefining the Desk Job” in the online IDEA Library or in the March 2016 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.


Levine, J.A. 2010. Health-chair reform. Your chair: Comfortable but deadly.Diabetes, 59 (11), 2715-16.
Morton, G., & Kravitz, L. 2016. 35 ailments, one prescription: MOVE! IDEA Fitness Journal, 13 (2), 40-51.
Pate, R.R., O’Neill, J.R., & Lobelo, F. 2008. The evolving definition of “sedentary.” Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, 36 (4), 173-178.
Tudor-Locke, C., et al. 2014. Changing the way we work: Elevating energy expenditure with workstation alternatives. International Journal of Obesity, 38 (6), 755-65.

Len Kravitz, PhD

Len Kravitz, PhD is a professor and program coordinator of exercise science at the University of New Mexico where he recently received the Presidential Award of Distinction and the Outstanding Teacher of the Year award. In addition to being a 2016 inductee into the National Fitness Hall of Fame, Dr. Kravitz was awarded the Fitness Educator of the Year by the American Council on Exercise. Just recently, ACSM honored him with writing the 'Paper of the Year' for the ACSM Health and Fitness Journal.

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