Most progressive work places are beginning to recognise the perceived health benefits of standing and will offer their employees the option of a standing desk (or adjustable sit-to-stand desk that can be raised and lowered as desired) or at the very least be open to the option of investing in such changes in the office.
By now it is common knowledge that sitting all day at work is not only bad for your posture but sustaining such long periods of sitting can also adversely effect your health and lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, poor blood sugar control, diabetes and even cancer. Not to mention the increased risk of eye strain and visual disturbances along with reductions in cognitive and neurological function.
Then there are the postural and musculoskeletal problems relating to prolonged sitting. These are well known and will often see you and/or your staff members spending plenty of time and money visiting the local physiotherapist. Common problems will vary from person to person but can range from:
- Weak and/or poor activation of the gluteal and core muscles
- Tight hip flexor muscles
- Strained neck and shoulder muscles
- Damage and compression to spinal discs
- Headaches and neck pain
So the answer is to stand up at work instead, right?
Well not necessarily. There is still a lack of any concrete studies showing that standing all day at work has superior health benefits when compared to sitting. A systematic review by MacEwen et al (2015) revealed there is a lack of research in this area and that standing alone seems to show few physiological improvements when compared with sitting (treadmill desks on the other hand showed several benefits... but that is taking the topic a bit far here!). Often the use of a standing desk in a workplace will be short-lived. People try with little success, usually due to fatigue and soreness, which eventually leads them to return to the easier option of sitting. The benefits of standing have been documented but they are often anecdotal and nothing more than personal accounts and tributary blogs written about its benefits. They include:
- Reduced lower back pain
- Increased productivity
- Improved leg strength and increased balance
- Increased calorie consumption
- Improved general body circulation (which is contrary to the increased risk of varicose veins)
But do the pro's out way the cons? There are several adverse side affects to having prolonged periods on your feet. Some research has shown that standing at work for longer that 6 hours a day can lead to:
- Increased circulatory stress resulting in varicose veins
- Increased risk of carpal tunnel syndrome with increased leaning while using a computer
- Hip/knee/foot pain
The answer is, as with most things, about having the flexibility and the option to do both. There are many styles of desks now that can be adjusted to allow you the ability to both sit for a period and, with a slight adjustment, stand for a period. Standing at work is a new posture for many people, so it will take time for the body to build endurance for sustained standing. Here are a few tips to reduce the chance of causing pain and to make the transition a bit easier:
4 Tips for standing:
- Stand differently - If you find yourself standing for longer periods where your body is stuck in extension (and often pain), try a few pelvic tilts using your anterior core and posterior gluteal muscles to set yourself in a slightly more neutral tilt. Here are some tips to correct poor pelvic position.
- Breathe better - another way to get your pelvis to posterior tilt is to exhale fully, which lowers your rib cage and relaxes that increased lumbar lordosis. Try a table top stretch like this one but rest your hands higher than your hip height.
- Rest postures - try to find time to sit, lie on your back on the floor or a half kneeling lunge position. While standing try to adopt a split stance position where is it harder to hang on one hip or arch your lower back into a fixed lordosis. Try some simple extension exercises like standing with your back to the wall and sliding your arms vertical up the wall.
- Wear good footwear - obviously a no brainer if you are standing a lot. All feet are different so match the shoe you need with you foot you have. Feet with poor arch stability will need increased support and firmer feet might need more padding. Ladies, high heels + standing all day is never a good idea, so keep a change of shoes under your desk.
Whether you choose to sit or stand at work it is important that you do both well. Incorporating periods of standing into your nine to five working day is important to prevent extended periods of static, often poor postures and to help keep your body moving, healthy and hopefully injury free.