As The Studio Trainer, I don’t need to look far to realize that ‘sitting is bad for your health’. While some say ‘sitting is the new smoking’, I hesitate to support this slogan with complete vigour. So many workers are asking- ‘Are standing-desks worthwhile?’. I DO believe that along with other factors, sitting at a desk all day is not allowing your body to function the way it should. On an evolutionary level we were not created to sit for long, nor lead such sedentary lifestyles as modern civilization allows for today…..
As with any topic on the internet, there is information both ‘for’ and ‘against’ the use of standing desks in the workplace.
Some argue that standing for long periods can encourage varicose veins, back pain, poor posture and musculoskeletal imbalances.
Others rebut with the fact that SITTING for too long leads to fatigue, lack of concentration, poor posture (hang on….what?), chronic back pain (yes, the same as when we stand too long).
It’s easy to understand that many folk would get confused with such conflicts on the world wide web. This is MY take on the subject of standing desks- the latest lifestyle trend….take from it what you will.
The topic may seem young but the idea that standing is better for you was first proposed in 1953. A study was published in The Lancet- a UK medical journal. It showed that coronary heart disease was less prevalent in bus conductors who stood all day, as opposed to those who ‘took a load off’ .
There is a significant and growing body of research showing clear links between sitting time and increased risk of chronic diseases and premature death. To put this into a less scary term, experts call this ‘sitting disease’.
Sit-stand workstations and standing desks are a fairly new invention. So, published and cited research is in its infancy and not enough time has allowed for long term outcomes yet.
Sedentary lifestyle studies however are in abundance and range from papers in ‘the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’, ‘the Oxford Journal of Public Health’, ‘Stanford Medicine Magazine’ and ‘ the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health’.
Policy has been adopted by a number of medical associations in a growing number of countries recognizing risks of prolonged sitting and encouraging alternatives.
The Australian Heart Foundation in collaboration with the University of Sydney conducted a study titled ‘Stand@Work’. The study monitored employees’ sitting time when they were provided with sit-stand workstations. This was similar to America’s ‘Take a Stand Project’.
Some of the positive outcomes included higher energy levels, more social connection between employees (yes, just the people they liked I presume) and a more positive mindset during work hours.
I won’t bore you with more of the statistics. It’s Sunday and my day of rest. But believe me when I say- there IS enough scientific proof out there for me to stand tall and proud over sitting for too long- anyway, how BORING!
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE SIT TOO LONG?
Remember those ultra long lectures at uni? You wake up with your head on the desk and a little bit of dribble at the side of your mouth? Well THAT is what can happen when you sit for too long…..
On a serious note though, a few different outcomes arise from being in the chair for long periods.
- When we sit, our leg and trunk muscles are inactive. This leads to a build up of sugars and fats in our blood system leaving us feeling lethargic, with poor concentration-and possibly asleep, dribbling.
- The average Aussie spends 6.3hrs per day sitting at work. Sitting all this time burns very few calories and many studies have linked it to weight gain and obesity.
- We are encouraged when flying to stand every hour and move around the plane, perform calf exercises and the like- to prevent DVT’s (deep vein thrombosis). Likewise, this can be an outcome from sitting at the desk for long periods.
- Even if you exercise, evidence is emerging that these long stints of sitting can be associated with chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, hypertension, stroke and premature mortality. Now we’re getting scary huh?
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE STAND INSTEAD?
Well for one, you don’t fall asleep and dribble (if this happens, you should see your GP)
Although research specific to standing desks and long term outcomes are still in the early stages, it is evident that using a standing desk has some impressive health benefits. At the very least, using this type of desk can partly negate the harmful effects of sitting too much.
Standing used around 13 per cent more energy over the course of an 8 hour day. So, accumulating 4 hours standing would burn energy equivalent to a 45 min walk. Hey presto- there’s some weight loss right there- provided you don’t try and balance things out with the biscuits in the staff room…
- Standing for an afternoon has been shown to burn 170 more calories than an equal amount of sitting. Over time, this can have a major impact on your weight.
- Type II diabetes (the insulin resistance type) results from spikes in blood sugar levels, which generally happens after meals. Studies have shown that standing for an hour or two after lunch can reduce a blood sugar spike by up to 43 per cent.
- Standing promotes better blood circulation, weight loss and prevention of diabetes- all of which help cardiac health. Just like the bus conductors in 1953, coronary heart disease is a lot less prevalent in those who stand.
- Chronic back pain is no longer a problem. Need I say more? We trainers see SO many instances of chronic back pain that of course we are going to latch on to any idea to prevent it! Be it lumbar, thoracic or cervical pain or across the shoulders, it comes from poor office posture and sitting for just too darn long! Sitting too long leads to tight hip flexors, inactive glutes and lazy core and spinal muscles. Not to mention those poke necks and hunched shoulders. As long as you stand correctly, so much of this pain could be prevented. I’ll explain more soon…
- Standing appear to have a positive influence on overall well-being. Participants in many studies report less stress and fatigue with the use of standing desks and productivity also improves.
- Metabolism is higher while standing. Those pesky fats and sugars will therefore get ‘dealt with’ or metabolized more efficiently while you’re working upright.
- Evidence has shown that reducing sitting time to 3hrs a day would raise the average Australian’s life expectancy by 2 years.
HOW TO …..
So you’ve made the decision to convert. You’ve scoured the retail giants and found the standing desk you want. Well done and bravo!
I want you now to realize there is a WAY to change your work place set up. You can’t run a marathon straight off the bat and likewise, you can’t go from sitting 6.3 hours a day to standing 6.3 hours a day straight away. Take baby steps and your body will thank you.
Here are some tips.
- Stand for one hour at a time, then sit for a while. Transitioning frequently between sitting and standing is much more sustainable than trying to stand all day. Your standing time should be built up gradually– while listening to your body.
- When we sit for too long we often hear our neck, shoulders and thoracic areas complain. When we stand for too long, we hear the lower back, knees and feet talking. Again, transition gradually and frequently.
- Posture, posture, posture. For many this is a learned process again! Feet shoulder width apart, rib cage above your hips, do NOT lock your knees and shoulders neutral. I know it’s a lot to re-learn. I’m a fan of Post-it notes so write this list down and smack it on to your screen!
- Incorporate small movements within your stance. Being still like a statue is a useful mantra for paediatric patients but not for standing office folk. A better mantra would be ‘the best posture is the next posture’. Shoulder rolls, up and down on your toes and walks now and then are all good for taking pressure off limbs.
- Flat shoes or no shoes should be worn. Your knees, hips and spines will thank you. Easy for the fellas yes- but the girls might need to keep their fancy shoes stored elsewhere for their meetings and business lunches.
- Try an anti-fatigue mat. These can be more forgiving on the joints than concrete or carpet.
- Ergonomics should be sorted. There are companies who can take care of this for you. Screen height and angle, elbow bend and desk height can all be adjusted by the professionals to make it comfortable.
So there you have it. Standing desks are a current trend but I see them as a good one. Research is growing and the sleeping dribble needs to stop! If you want to help your body to lose weight, boost your metabolism, prevent heart disease and diabetes, have more energy by day’s end and get to know your colleagues more- train yourself to use a standing desk. Take is slowly and see your personal trainer if pain persists.
PS- Does your office having standing work stations? Have you discovered the advantages? Let me know in the comments….