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Take A Stand

woman at a standing deskWhen Terri Krivosha attended a meeting during which her client conducted business while walking on a treadmill, "I thought it was crazy," the Minneapolis attorney recalls.

But after trying it herself that afternoon, Krivosha was hooked. "I felt so energized afterwards that I ordered one immediately," she says. Since she began "walking out" at work three years ago, Krivosha has lost 15 pounds and has seen an improvement in her balance, posture, and energy.

Krivosha is not alone in finding benefits to walking and standing while working. In a recent study by HealthPartners, employees who were provided a "Sit-Stand Workstation," made by Ergotron, reported feeling more comfortable, energized, focused, and productive.

Workers also said they noticed a significant decrease in back and neck pain and in fatigue.

Numerous other studies cited by – to name a few – the British Journal of Sports Medicine , University of Missouri, American Journal of Epidemiology and Pennington Biomedical Research Center have shown that prolonged sitting can also contribute to other serious health issues such as hypertension, stroke, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), citing compelling data from studies showing that prolonged sitting raises several key indicators of cancer risk, has urged Americans to "make time for break time" throughout the workday. Getting away from the desk for even a short walk down the hallway every few hours can help, research shows.

Christy Lotz, an ergonomics engineer with Humantech, a consulting firm that specializes in implementing ergonomic programs in the workplace, says there are many benefits to using a standing workstation.

According to Lotz, incorporating a standing workstation, even if you only stand for increments of 30 minutes at a time, can rev up your metabolism, burn more calories, and improve your circulatory system. In fact, standing can potentially double your caloric expenditure, and decrease what is known as the "afternoon slump," all the while improving productivity.

Krivosha uses her treadmill desk while she is on the phone, writing legal drafts, or meeting with lawyers in her office (though they are offered a stool to sit on).

It's not as easy as it may sound to walk and work at the same time. Krivosha admits that balance was a bit of a challenge at first. "…People would stand at my door and expect me to turn around and talk to them," she says. "I made a big X by my desk where they had to stand so I wouldn't fall off!"

Getting Started

Transitioning gradually into using a standing workstation will make the change easier, and Lotz offers these tips:

  • To start, schedule your standing time to increments of 30 minutes, several times a day.
  • Drink more water. The more water you drink, the more often you will need to use the restroom. Walking to the restroom will get you out of your chair.
  • Conduct stand-up meetings.
  • Instead of emailing your coworkers, communicate face-to-face.
  • A standing workstation does not have to be expensive. Books can be used to raise the monitor to eye-level. Once you see how employees react to standing more frequently, you can establish an overall workstation design plan to purchase or update equipment.

Though members of Krivosha's law firm have been supportive of her "take a stand" approach to working, nobody else has joined her yet and she did have to purchase the treadmill herself. But more and more companies are encouraging their employees to get up and get moving while working as research continues to show the detrimental effects of being chair-bound for most of our waking hours.

A Growing Trend

Donovan McNutt, founder and president of GeekDesk, says that his company's customers are a "very diverse bunch," including Fortune 500 firms, small technology startups, individuals buying for their home office, government agencies, universities, and the military; the company is seeing continuing growth, with sales this year running about twice what they were last year.

Standing at work has been popular in Scandinavia for several decades, but it has become increasingly popular elsewhere since the 1990s, with the rise of computer-bound jobs, which led workers who sat for hours at a time to develop problems such as carpal tunnel syndrome and neck and back pain.

In the past decade, office furniture manufacturers and retailers have begun incorporating sit-stand desks in their product inventory. The product has gone from being a niche product to a standard offering.

Doing it Right

While sitting all day is not good for your health, standing all day isn't necessarily the ideal solution either, say scholars like Alan Hedge, who directs the Human Factors and Ergonomics research and teaching programs at Cornell University. If a standup desk is not used correctly, he says, it can not only be tiring, but also increase the risks of carotid atherosclerosis because of a greater stress on the circulatory system, and the development of varicose veins. Hedge recommends a middle-of-the-road approach; use a conventional sitting desk with correct ergonomic posture, and then stand up and move around every 20 minutes.

Understanding the right way to utilize a height adjustable desk or table will give you the best results, agrees Vanessa Haynes, spokesperson for MultiTable, LLC, producer of height and width adjustable desks and bases.

Like Hedge, Haynes also suggests that alternating between sitting and standing every hour is a happy medium. "This way there is enough activity to keep one's blood circulating at a healthier rate than continual sitting, and better circulation means a reduction in heart disease risk amongst other health issues," she says.

In addition, Haynes continues, it's important to use an adjustable desk at the appropriate height, both while sitting and standing. Keep your arms as close to a 90 degree angle as possible while typing. And, align the top of your computer monitor to eye level, with the center of the monitor at about a 15 degree angle down from your eyes.

Utilizing an ergonomic, anti-fatigue mat under your feet while standing and sitting can reduce back pressure and strain as well as limit joint and limb pain, Haynes suggests, adding that these mats are a great help, especially when work attire standards limit your options of finding the best ergonomically designed shoe.

For GeekDesk founder Donovan McNutt, sit-stand workstations are definitely an idea whose time has come, and he doesn't see that changing.

"The idea of not just sitting all day has continued to catch on and become more mainstream," he says. "For most people, once they try that approach, they never go back."


For more information on sit-stand office furniture, check out:

Published on August 28, 2012

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