As with many things, everything old is new again. The stand-up desk was the standard office furniture of the 19th century long before the health benefits (when compared to modern day sit-down desks) were known or understood. In fact, our very own Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Turnbull, is an avid supporter of the standing desk having installed one in his Canberra office.
The human body evolved to survive in the natural world – not our cosy man-made one. Historians have determined that our ancestors spent their years walking across continents, hunting animals, or farming land. Sitting? Well, that was done around the campfire or basket-weaving, but never for eight hours a day while staring at a screen.
There is a plethora of research which suggests that sitting is not good for us. According to the American Journal of Epidemiology: a study of 123,000 adults, who were followed over 14 years, showed that those who sat more than six hours a day were at least 18 per cent more likely to die than those who sat less than three hours a day. Current research suggests that prolonged sitting leads to increased risk of developing lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, some cancers and blood clots.
Combined with this research is information that suggests that regular exercise, within current accepted guidelines, cannot prevent the increased risk associated with sedentary work or prolonged sitting and that many other more commonly recognised health issues can develop from prolonged sitting. These issues include musculoskeletal overuse and strain, low back pain, and increased intervertebral disc pressure.1
Mix it up!
Sitting does reduce the muscular effort that we are under as we work and therefore, can often feel comfortable and be the posture of choice for deskbound workers. It reduces energy consumption, takes the weight off the lower limbs and reduces demand on the cardiovascular system. Research also suggests that workers are better able to focus on and undertake fine motor tasks when seated, when compared to standing.1
As an alternative to seated workstations, there are a number of options:
- Standing-only workstations
- Sit-stand workstations
- High desk with perching stool
- Active workstations (e.g. stationary bike or treadmill incorporated)
It’s likely that a sit-stand workstation strikes the right balance between providing a physically beneficial workstation and
an environment where employees feel comfortable and productive.
The benefits of a sit-stand workstation are:
- Provision of postural variety
- Reduction in lifestyle disease risk due to greater energy consumption and muscular effort
- Decrease in the risk of musculoskeletal complaints
- Enhanced cognitive performance, as it activates the cardiovascular system and stimulates awareness
Research to date suggests however, that the use of sit-stand workstations generally meets with poor compliance. This is because they are based on the concept of the individual choosing to do more physical work and use more energy (by standing) as opposed to using less energy and having increased comfort (in sitting). As such, people are inclined to choose the least physiologically demanding posture and therefore, when provided with the option of sitting or standing, more frequently choose to sit.
Factors that need to be considered when deciding whether to move to a sit-stand workstation in the workplace:
- What works in the workplace?
- How do you encourage use amongst staff (when compliance is statistically low)?
- What arrangement will make sit-stand workstations most cost effective?
- How many standing workstations should be provided and will people hot desk into them during the day?
Other options for providing movement at work should also be considered (sit-stand workstations may only be one small piece of a bigger puzzle). Options may include:
- Periodically standing to work
- Conducting standing/walking meetings
- Walk to talk to people rather than email
- Move printers and other shared equipment to more distant locations
A participatory approach in the workplace to develop strategies to create movement will result in the most effective outcome.
Links for suppliers and a variety of sit/stand workstations:
For more information about using sit stand workstations in your work environment, or for other ergonomic enquiries, please contact your local Konekt office.
1 www.ergonomics.about.com/od/office/a/Benefits- of-a-Standing-Desk.htm. [Accessed 19 November 15].