High Tech Worker: Sit or Stand?

Picture 066If you look around your office, there’s a very good chance some workers are using “stand-up” desk configurations. Besides feeling a little like an air traffic controller overseeing the runways, this ergonomic configuration works for some workers.  For others, not so much. So when should you sit or stand?

Sit, but Move

A research study at Cornell University shows that sitting for more than 1 hour can cause biochemical changes in lipase activity (an enzyme involved in fat metabolism) and in glucose metabolism that leads to the deposit of fats in adipose tissue rather than these being metabolized by muscle.  Other research shows that extensive sitting can relate to heart disease risks. some data also suggests increased risk of coronary heart and kidney disease, but those studies are correlational because people who have those issues usually sit more anyway. Sitting also consumes less calories (about 20% less) than standing.

But sitting has it’s advantages.  It’s less tiring and a more stable position to do work, like driving, drawing, and fine moments used for work like typing or micro-surgery.

The experts say you can reduce the intended consequences of sitting too much by taking breaks.  About every 30 minutes, take a 1-2 minute break where you stand and MOVE.  A trip to the water cooler, restroom, or just a stroll around the office works.  Frequent micro breaks improve levels of comfort, work performance, and reduces risk of musculoskeletal injury.

Stand and deliver

Some people like to stand while they work.  In addition to burning more calories, people often feel more free and their limbs are less like to “go to sleep” (tingle) from inactivity caused by a strange sitting position.

However, standing to work is also problematic. It is certainly more tiring and or men with ischemic heart disease it increases the progression of carotid atherosclerosis because of the additional load on the circulatory system. Prolonged standing at work also increases the risks of varicose veins and accounts for more than one fifth of all cases of working age. It’s also tougher to get the ergonomics of keyboard and monitor height right when you’re standing. So standing all day is probably unhealthy. The performance of many fine motor skills also is less good when people stand rather than sit.

 

So what to do?

Most ergonomists believe sitting is the answer, especially if you do lots of computer work or reading.  Despite the drawbacks, adding micro-breaks make sitting a preferred alternative.  Sitting burns less calories, but workers tend to make fewer mistakes, fatigue more slowly, and feel better at the end of the day.

Of course making the decision to sit means sitting correctly. It means adjusting desk height, chair, monitor and keyboard perfectly. It means watching your posture.  If your company offers an ergonomic review, take advantage of it.  You’ll likely be surprised what you learn about your own work style and you’ll be even more surprised how GOOD you feel when you get everything working for a more balanced and stress-free workstation.

Resources:

Dunstan D.W, Thorp A.A, Healy G.N. (2011) Prolonged sitting: is it a distinct coronary heart disease risk factor? Curr Opin Cardiol. Sep;26(5):412-419.

Hamilton M.T., Hamilton D.G.,  Zderic T.W. (2007) Role of Low Energy Expenditure and Sitting in Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, Type 2 Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease Diabetes, 56:2655-2667

Hedge A., Ray E.J. (2004) Effects of an electronic height-adjustable worksurface on self-assessed musculoskeletal discomfort and productivity among computer workers, Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society 48th Annual Meeting, New Orleans, Sept. 20-24, HFES, Santa Monica, 1091-1095.

Krause N., Lynch J.W., Kaplan G.A., Cohen R.D., Salonen R., Salonen J.T. (2000) Standing at work and progression of carotid atherosclerosis. Scand J Work Environ Health, 26(3):227-236

Tüchsen F., Krause N., Hannerz H., Burr H., Kristensen T.S. (2000) Standing at work and varicose veins. Scand J Work Environ Health, 26(5):414-420.

Tüchsen F.,  Hannerz H., Burr H.,Krause N.  (2005) Prolonged standing at work and hospitalisation due to varicose veins: a 12 year prospective study of the Danish population. Occup Environ Med. 2005 December; 62(12): 847–850.

Wilks S., Mortimer M., Nylén P. (2005) The introduction of sit–stand worktables; aspects of attitudes, compliance and satisfaction. App. Erg., 37 (3), 359-365.