AMA to offices: Don’t make workers sit all day!

Treadmill desks are increasingly popular, and the American Medical Assn. is taking note. On Tuesday, the physicians' group recommended that employers provide workers alternatives to sitting all day.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

“Get off your butts,” the nation’s doctors said Tuesday, as the American Medical Assn. adopted a new policy on sitting in the workplace.

Citing mounting evidence that sitting for extended periods of time is really bad for you, the physicians group is now urging employers and others to make alternatives to sitting available to workers — standing work stations, isometric balls that allow the core to remain engaged while a person sits, and so on.

“Prolonged sitting, particularly in work settings, can cause health problems, and encouraging work places to offer employees alternatives to sitting all day will help to create a healthier workforce,” AMA board member Dr. Patrice Harris said in a statement.


PHOTOS: 17 ways to fight the inertia

Physicians and others have been calling on Americans to rise to their feet since at least 1999, when UC Berkeley emeritus psychologist Seth Roberts started standing all day as he worked. Discovering that standing during the day improved his sleep at night, he eventually set up a treadmill next to his desk.

A few years later, Mayo Clinic endocrinologist Dr. James Levine popularized the idea as a way to battle obesity. As Mandy Katz wrote in the New York Times, Levine noted in a study that lean people burned about 350 more calories a day than overweight people, just because they expend more energy puttering about, retrieving paperwork, and so on.

“The chair is out to kill us,” Levine told Los Angeles Times contributor Karen Ravn in May. Levine’s research has revealed that a person who works at a desk job might burn 300 calories during a work week, Ravn wrote, while those in jobs that require physical effort can burn 2,000 calories more. Sitting also harms circulation, leads to aches and pains and also increases the risk of diabetes, heart troubles and premature death.

Levine offers tips for getting off your feet in this article at But there are many strategies to try: simply getting up from your desk every now and then, increasing the number of steps you take in a day, possibly even investing in furniture that will keep you walking as you work, such as a treadmill desk.

Writer Susan Orlean wrote entertainingly about her foray into moving at her desk in this New Yorker piece (subscription required for full text). One big problem she faced, she wrote: “the compulsion to announce constantly that you are working at a treadmill desk.”


Read about several new policies adopted Tuesday by the American Medical Assn.

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