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Sit-Stand Desks – Truth or Sales Pitch?

Much has been said and written about sit-stand desks in the twenty years that they have been available in various forms. But not all of it is accurate.
I have been selling sit-stand desks for nearly twenty years and wholeheartedly recommend their use as part of a wider health and productivity regime.
Unfortunately, their attributes have been misappropriated by some as a panacea to avoid a range of serious health conditions and avert early death.
Exploding the myths
Much of the recent publicity has been advanced by the pick-up of the 2012 systematic review and meta-analysis concerning prolonged seating by Wilmot, Edwardson, Achana et al. From a collective sample of approximately 800,000 participants, the researchers concluded that sedentary time is associated with a number of diseases affecting early mortality.
It was an interpretation of these studies that coined the phrase ‘Sitting is the new smoking’ which has quickly and wrongly become named as a standard reason for the use of sit-stand desks.
A later Consensus Statement (not a research paper) ‘The sedentary office: a growing case for change towards better health and productivity’ recommends periods of ‘standing and light activity’, standing-based work regularly breaking up sitting time and the use of sit-stand desks plus short active breaks.
Movement is important
What is missed in the interpretations is that it’s about sitting less not standing more. It is not just a binary choice. The debate is more complicated than that. Movement is also an essential constituent but our individual needs, fitness and more can influence the equation.
Movement should include the frequent use of ‘gravity muscles’ i.e. climbing steps and stairs and stretching. It’s the frequency of use rather than for how long which is important (research: Dr Joan Vernikos, NASA).
Sit less and move more
Let’s put this into context for individuals and employers:
• Good posture, whether sitting or standing, is essential.
• Don’t sit or stand for too long.
• Drink lots of water. It’s good for you and creates a natural break.
• Try standing or walking meetings.
• Consider tasks better suited to standing i.e. sort papers and files.
• Stand, or walk, for telephone conversations.
• Scrap internal emailing, speak to the person.
• Park as far away from the workplace/shops as possible.
• Use the stairs, not the lift.
• Wear a fitness tracker to track your steps.
• Do stretching exercises at your desk and/or on the move.
• Enrol in health programmes.
• Raise your sit-stand desk up high at the end of the day to make it easier for cleaners and forcing you to reposition in the morning.
• Raise your desk when colleagues approach and talk/meet standing up.
For organisations: sit-stand furniture means a culture change. Training, education and user support are essential.
Optimising performance
• Training how to use sit-stand desks, when to make posture changes and what good posture feels like (sitting and standing).
• Install “poseur tables” for short standing meetings/touch-down use.
• Replace some meeting tables with standing versions.
• Slow down the lift(s) to encourage stair use.
• Hot-Desking areas: install a pair of sit-stand desks at the end of each set of standard desks.
• Use schemes like Global Corporate Challenge which encourage movement and foster team building.
• Create walking routes around your premises.
• Label routes and staircases with calories burned (StepJockey).
• Incorporate posture and ergonomics into your health and wellbeing programmes.
• Gamify your workplace to encourage movement.
In summary:
• Sit-stand desks are not the sole solution.
• Ensure people are trained about good sitting and standing postures.
• Make frequent posture changes whilst sitting; get up every 20-30 minutes.
• Don’t just swap sitting for standing.
• Create opportunities to walk and move about during your working day.
• Be critical of what you hear! Is it true or is it just a sales pitch?
Guy Osmond, Osmond Ergonomics, February 2018
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This article first appeared in the Winter/Spring 2018 edition of Connect magazine from Cardinus Risk Management.


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