Should we stand or sit?
You may have read about the new phenomenon that has swept the workplace, Sit/Stand Desks. Some governments have become positively evangelical about them. For example, the Danish government have made it a legal requirement for companies to offer their employees the option of a Sit / Stand Desk.
Overall 90% of Scandinavian Office workers have access to Sit/Stand Desks compared to their UK based colleagues who have 1%. It’s been claimed that access to a Sit / Stand Desk improves performance by 25%.
What are Sit/Stand Desks?
Standing desks are not new. During the 18th and 19th centuries they were very much in vogue, popular in the homes of the rich and considered a sign of your intellectual prowess. Churchill, Virginia Woolf, Hemingway, Napoleon and Dickens were notable advocates of their use.
It’s obvious from the statistics quoted before that they have become common place for a number of years throughout Scandinavia but it is really only in the last five years that they have found a foot hole in the UK. They can have electronic, gas-lift or crank operated mechanisms and if you want you can ‘pimp it up’ with a number of accessories including balance boards, comfort mats and even a thread-mill.
The average British worker sits for 8.9 hours daily.
Research suggests this figure is creeping upwards and has increased by 5 minutes in the last decade. Doesn’t sound like a lot but this translates as an extra 4.5 days travelling back and forth to work in a year.
In Britain the lunch time culture has changed considerably. A BBC poll conducted in 2013 drawing from 600 office workers and found that:
• 54% regularly work through their lunch break.
• 53% believed the culture of not taking lunch breaks to be widespread in their workplace.
• 20% felt under pressure from managers not to take a break.
• 33% put off going to the toilet while at their desk.
So even lunchtime doesn’t bring respite from your desk with many of you eating lunch at our desks & even putting off going to the toilet. Despite your dedication this approach has actually been proven to reduce productivity.
If you are looking for a fun place to work how do you fancy a game of Wii tennis or nipping out for a walk or swim, to break up your working day? That’s what the Ipswich Building Society did and saw huge benefits in terms of reduced staff sickness & absenteeism.
So what are the associated risks of sitting?
The risks associated with sitting were first looked at as far back as the 1950’s. Professor Jerry Morris, a Scottish epidemiologist, analysed data on cardiovascular disease and noticed that London bus drivers had higher rates of heart disease compared to the more active conductors.
The British Heart Foundation & Get Britain Standing compiled a list of serious health conditions related to prolonged sitting:
1) Heart Disease
2) Type II Diabetes
3) Obesity – When sitting the protein that helps breakdown fat (Lipoprotein Lipase) drops by 90% & reduced Metabolic Rate (MR).
4) Certain Cancers – risk for colon, breast and endometrial cancers. The reason is unclear, but one theory is that excess insulin encourages cell growth.
5) Neck/Back Pain (50% increase in pressure on intervertebral Discs when seated).
8) High Blood Pressure
10) Muscle Degeneration.
Perhaps you are reading that list and thinking that while interesting much of this doesn’t really apply to you. Perhaps you eat right, exercise regularly and generally look after your health. Unfortunately even if you had the time and dedication to do at least 30 minutes exercise DAILY this wouldn’t undo the harmful effects of sitting.
Dr Stuart Biddle, Professor of Physical Activity & Health at Loughborough University states that “even if you exercise for at least 30 minutes most days, you are still storing up health problems from being sedentary too much.”
The message is clear – move more and sit less.
It’s not just in the office.
Rising levels of childhood obesity and health problems are never far from the front pages (e.g. 1 in 10 children who start primary school are considered clinically obese). Good habits in childhood continue into adulthood, so encouraging an active lifestyle for our kids is vital. On top of sitting at school desks, how much time do they spend sitting in front if the TV or a computer (ever increasing levels of homework doesn’t help!).
So Sit / Stand Desks are the answer?
It may be a false premise to suggest that simply because we have endless evidence detailing how unhealthy sitting is that somehow standing up instead is infinitely better. A recent study published in the journal of Human Factors and Ergonomics states that prolonged standing can result in fatigue, leg cramps, back pain and more serious joint problems that not only cause discomfort but also affect work performance and productivity.
So what’s the answer?
In simple terms we are not designed to adopt static postures whether they are seated or standing.
Only time will tell if sit stand desk are the answer but as with most things in life it’s about balance- some sitting/standing/walking is probably your best bet.
Ultimately what we need is a shift in workplace mentality, adopting things like walks at lunchtime or yoga classes (ok, perhaps we’re a long way from this but hopefully that’s the way we’re headed).
If you want to be more active at work here are our top tips:
1. Educate your colleagues about the dangers of prolonged sitting (& standing).
2. Keep moving around. Take frequent breaks.
4. Leave your desk at lunch time.
5. Take phone calls standing up, this also boosts voice quality because you can actually use your diaphragm.
6. Try removing tables and chairs from meeting rooms (leads to shorter meetings).
7. Take the stairs instead of the lift.
8. Walk to a colleague’s desk, instead of emailing – after all they may only be a couple of desks away!
9. Stand during speeches or presentations (studies suggest that we burn 30 -50 % more calories when standing. One other study calculated that if we stand half an hour a day for a year we would lose 2.4 kilograms).
10. Try taking a “Walking Meeting”.
11. Consider a Sit-Stand desk.
12. Visit us at Cheadle Osteopathy if you need further treatment or advice!
Sit / Stand Desks.