If you sit at a desk and gaze at a computer for most of an 8-hour workday, then you should read this article. If you sit most of your 8-hour workday but don’t stare at a computer, you, too, should read this article. Why? Because workers who sit most of the day need to be educated on the influence of prolonged sitting on their overall health. Have you heard the claim that, “Sitting is the new smoking”? While there may not be enough research yet to make that a completely true statement, there is enough evidence to support the use of sit-stand workstations. I should probably be standing while I type this, but I am at home, and not at my sit-stand workstation, which I requested a few months back.
I requested a change in my workstation, really as an afterthought, as I watched 2-3 of my colleagues switch to a sit-stand desk. I had never thought about it. I was not one of the 40-80% of computer users who complained of work-related musculoskeletal injuries; my back didn’t hurt; my neck didn’t hurt; my eyes were not dry or my vision blurry. But my right knee did occasionally swell after a hard morning workout, especially on days where I sat at my desk all day. So, I decided to try a sit-stand station for my knee and was happily impressed (and a little surprised) that this simple change helped my knee by performing “interval” sitting and standing throughout the day. No one provided any advice or training on how to successfully use my sit-stand station; I just used a trial and error technique. I would typically stand an hour or two, then sit an hour or two, depending on how much I had to type. My typing errors definitely increased while I stood, which makes sense from a “motor control” perspective. It is more challenging for most to stand and type error-free than to sit and type as accurately, depending on our age. Occasionally, I stood too long, and my back would signal the need for a sitting break. My typing sometimes suffers, but my knee is much happier now at my sit-stand station. But this is all anecdotal. What does the research say?
Research is starting to catch up with sit-stand workstation sales, which have been increasing, and does support the use of this interval positioning for some health benefits, but not for weight loss, as many of us would like to hope. Here are some key points from current research regarding standing workstations:
- The number of calories burned by standing is only eight more than by sitting (88 vs. 80 cal/hour; walking burns 210/hour as a comparison); walking at lunch would burn more calories than just standing most of the day
- Blood sugar rates return to normal after a meal faster on days when the person stands more
- Standing vs. sitting can reduce the risk of shoulder and back pain (if scheduled correctly; a person needs to work up to standing long periods, not just start 8 hours of standing one day; the back will thank you later for a graded approach increasing from 30-60 minutes per day)
- Excessive sedentary activity (like sitting) has been linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity
- Sit-stand stations have decreased stress and increased energy levels throughout the workday
In summary, there is promising preliminary research that supports the use of sit-stand desks to improve health and potentially increase lifespan. This is not a substitute for physical activity or exercise, and more research is needed to determine the best intervals for sitting and standing at work that improve health without causing back pain or other “overuse” symptoms that result from transitioning too fast from long-term sitting to long-term standing at work. A physical therapist or other trained healthcare provider can offer guidance on the best ergonomic workstation setup and positioning schedule for anyone interested in standing up for health!
Resources: healthline.com; health.harvard.edu; Robertson MM, Ciriello VM, Garabet AM. Office ergonomics training and a sit-stand workstation: Effects on musculoskeletal and visual symptoms and performance of office workers.Applied Ergonomics, 2013; 44:73-85.