Dr James Levine is co-director of the Mayo Clinic and the Arizona State University Obesity Initiative - he's also inventor of the treadmill desk.
Like any novel concept, Dr James Levine started researching the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle and was met with his fair share of resistance from peers and colleagues refusing to change, accept and embrace the new. The insinuation that sitting was independently harmful, and harmful enough to kill was so unpopular that his peers sent letters to senior faculty at the mayo Clinic suggesting he was psychiatrically ill - resulting in Dr James Levine being referred to a psychiatrist.
"I will tell you...when your world is that of intellect of the mind and of science, when your senior colleagues have you sent to a psychiatrist because they think you're insane, that really does make you pause."
Dr Levine documents his struggles in his book titled "Get Up!", and recalls how he came to the conclusion that chairs are killing us. "We lose two hours of life for every hour we sit," writes Levine. "Sitting all day is not natural and to blame for all kinds of ailments including obesity."
Dr Levine is optimistic that the revolution to overthrow sitting is at hand. He sees the arrival of dynamic offices, with walking paths from department to department and walking meetings. "The cool companies, cool executives are not driving BMW's, they're on treadmills. My children wont be working the way my colleagues and I have. This is about hardcore productivity. You will make money if your workforce gets up and gets moving."
The book also looks at the study of NEAT, or non-exercise activity thermogenesis, the energy expenditure of activity other than sports. It includes dancing, going to work, shoveling snow and taking a walk, Levine writes. So you can imagine a construction worker uses a lot more NEAT calories than a computer programmer in the course of a workday.
“Low NEAT is linked to weight gain, diabetes, heart attacks and cancer,” Levine writes.
In an experiment in which people were overfed by the same amount – 1,000 calories a day – Levine and his colleagues found that some people had a “powerful NEAT switch” that gets them moving to use excess energy.
“Those people who do not have a NEAT switch remain sitting in response to overfeeding and are predisposed to obesity,” he writes.
The difference was two hours and 15 minutes a day of movement versus sitting. Levine and his colleagues conducted other studies over several years to look at how the brain controls movement – or lack of movement.
Levine puts the dangers simply: “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death. Whether it's in schools or offices, what is critical to appreciate is that setting goals of standing up and sitting down are simply impractical for 90 percent of workers. What one has to do is understand the infrastructure and build solutions that enable people to be standing two to three hours extra per day than they are already." It was this thought process that lead to Dr Levine developing the treadmill desk.
LifeSpan treadmill desks are now available to purchase in the UK through www.thetreadmilldeskstore.co.uk
Dr Levine's book "Get Up!" is available to purchase from Amazon for £10.68.