Sit or Stand? Strategies to Improve Workplace Health

Many people sit at work these days. 

There has been a large amount of interest in designing the seated workstation with the application of ergonomic principles to reduce the likelihood of injuries.   

With the changes to a more sedentary lifestyle, we are encountering an increase in chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.  Current research shows that sitting for long periods of time is a risk factor for a variety of these chronic diseases.  Prolonged sitting contributes to the risk of heart attack, stroke and metabolic syndromes.

Sitting is the new smoking
Sitting is the new smoking...” says Dr. James Levine, director of Mayo Clinic at Arizona State University

A study by Dr. Hidde van der Ploeg found that sitting for 11 or more hours each day increased the risk of death by 40% compared to sitting less per day.  Added to this increase is the development of chronic diseases and the negative effects that accompany a relatively sedentary lifestyle.  The fact is that Americans are getting bigger.  The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that nearly 36% of American adults are obese and another 33% of adults are overweight.  There is increasing evidence that the seated lifestyle contributes to this increase.

During the past few years, there has been an increasing interest in getting workers out of their chairs.  As part of this trend, many employers have started to use and promote the stand-up workstation as a way of enforcing movement on an otherwise sedentary work force.  A recent article in the Huffington Post provided the following suggestions for adding movement to the workplace:

  • Use a standing desk.  Working from an upright position burns more calories (20 percent) than sitting.  Additionally, prolonged sitting has been shown to increase plasma triglyceride levels, decrease levels of HDL cholesterol levels and decrease insulin sensitivity.
  • Take frequent office laps:  Regular walk breaks helps circulation, helps to refocus the brain and helps to burn fat.
  • Desk exercises:  Perform exercises such as stretching while seated.
  • Treadmill desk:  This allows the user to walk at a slow pace while working.  You can place a computer and a keyboard on a treadmill and type (work) while you walk.
  • Yoga ball chair:  Sitting on a yoga ball (aka Swiss ball, balance ball) helps to engage the core muscles and improved balance.
  • Standing station:  There are commercially available standing work stations, but improvisation is also acceptable.
  • Active meetings:   Instead of sitting in a meeting room, move meetings outdoors.  Meetings wouldn’t last quite so long if they were not held indoors in meeting rooms with attendees seated comfortably in chairs.

Of course, prolonged standing is not always the best position either.  Movement is the key to remaining healthy.  Workers should be encouraged to move from a sitting to standing position and back as frequently as possible.  Vary your activities in the workplace and see if this makes a positive difference for you.

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