Some start taking a stand

FAIRMONT – At 6-feet-10, Jim Fleming never liked to sit behind a desk.

“Sitting at a desk, with that little cubby hole for your legs, I felt like I was in prison,” he said.

It wasn’t like Fleming sat around all day. Being active is part of his lifestyle. The Fairmont resident sincerely enjoys exercise – biking to work whenever the weather allows – and as youth pastor for Bethel Free Church, the kids keep him on the move.

But all that activity wasn’t enough to offset the damage done during a long road trip to Buffalo, N.Y. Sitting in the car all those hours, Fleming developed a blood clot in one of his legs. He did a bit of research and found that blood clots aren’t uncommon for a guy his age. That was all the motivation he needed to change things up.

For three years now, Fleming has had a standing desk in his office. There are chairs for when people come to visit, but for the most part, he is on his feet and moving around.

“I’m more comfortable at the end of the day, and I have freedom of mind knowing I’m not opening the door for more clots,” he said.

Plus, the 50-year-old reported his focus has improved since he replaced his traditional desk.

Stories like this don’t come as a surprise to researcher and physician James Levine, a professor of medicine for Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

Levine is the author of “Move a Little Lost a Lot” and a world-renowned expert in his field. He’s credited as the “Office of the Future” creator – nixing desks in favor of stationary computers at treadmills. He has been researching our bodies’ physiological need for movement for years, and these days, he is not alone.

“This is now mainstream,” he said.

“When you think about it, it’s an amazing health opportunity. … It really is a wake-up call: We’re either going to get up and start to live differently, or see the next generation on medications starting at the age of 3, 4 years old.”

One scientific study after another is showing the plethora of problems caused by sedentary lifestyles. One study recently published in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health showed that for every additional hour you spend sitting each day, you have a 50 percent greater risk of being disabled if you’re 60 and older. That’s regardless of how much moderate exercise you get.

For all ages, sitting too often goes hand-in-hand with back pain, poor sleep, depression and obesity, plus diabetes, heart disease and cancer – particularily breast cancer, according to Levine.

“If we’d had this discussion 5 to 10 years ago, we might have had a playful chat, talking about things you can do like pacing while you’re on a telephone call, parking further away – simple interventions,” he said.

“But I think all of us who do this [research] are starting to realize, on one hand it’s very simple. The answer is to be up and moving, very much more than we are.

“… But if it’s so simple, we would have done it already.”

The solution, as it turns out, is anything but simple. It requires not just behavioral changes by individuals, according to Levine, but societal redesign.

If “societal redesign” sounds drastic, it’s meant to be just that.

“The new default needs to be up instead of down. We need to redefine the default,” he said.

In our homes we have the freedom to choose how much we move, but our workplaces and schools aren’t designed to allow that same freedom of movement.

“The natural way of humans is to move – just watch children,” Levine said.

Again, he’s not a lone voice on these matters.

“This is pretty hard core,” he acknowledged. “Now at least four countries have policy statements on it.”

No such policy exists in the United States, but more companies and individuals are literally taking action by changing their office set-ups to encourage movement.

These workplaces have helped prove the benefits of scrapping traditional set-ups in favor of movement-friendly environments, according to Levine.

“If you’re sitting down all day, your ability to handle insulin, for example, is significantly impaired,” he said. “Within 90 seconds of getting up and moving, your insulin level goes down.”

That means employees in movement-friendly environments are actively participating in preventing diabetes – a disease that affects 9 percent of Americans, and a whopping third of Americans are pre-diabetic.

There’s something else these employees are doing, which might come as a surprise to some: They’re being more productive.

“There’s a big misunderstanding about this,” Levine said. “We feel if everybody is up and moving, productivity declines, but we’ve found it increases by 10 to 11 percent.”