Blog - To sit or not to sit?

Two men sitting on saddle stools at an adjustable height deskThe topic of sit stand desks is very much in vogue. There is so much debate about the use of them, it can really leave you in a quandary about whether or not to buy one.

A recent review on the possible perils of sitting and standing at work was written by Professor Alan Hedges, Ergonomist at Cornell University – Professor Hedges has long been involved in the debate on dangers of sedentary work – and the points in his article précised by Dr Elizabeth Kirk in her blog post, Should We Rush to Stand?

These points included:

  • Sitting for “more than 1 hour …leads to the deposit of fats in adipose tissue rather than these being metabolized by muscle”. This is true for both individuals that exercise regularly and unfit individuals.
  • Standing for extended periods can be more tiring and may lead to varicose veins.
  • “Frequent microbreaks improves levels of comfort, work performance, and reduces the risks of musculoskeletal injuries.”
  • Studies found the use of sit-stand stations rapidly declines. After 1 month, the majority stay seated.
  • “Sit-stand workstations are expensive and generally cost-ineffective in addressing the issues to hand.”

So what’s the deal?

Although a few of these points may appear to dampen the case for buying a sit stand desk, the statistics around lack of movement are scary. The World Health Organisation stated in 2013 that globally, physical activity is the fourth leading risk factor behind death,  after high blood pressure, tobacco use and high blood glucose. Physcial inactivity is one of the largest health problems facing all of us in the modern world.

Further research by Daniel Angelini, of MOVI, in Melbourne – who have designed a desk top electrically adjustable desk, indicates that it is important that we give ourselves the chance to stand some of the time. And this is where the research also indicates that we need to look carefully at our use of sit stand desks.

Not everyone wants to stand. Not everyone is able to stand. And everyone is a different size and shape, so if we are selecting these items of furniture, we need to be a bit more specific about what we choose, getting something that works for the end user in terms of adjusting desks to the required heights.

Training is a vital factor in sit-stand effectiveness

Also, most importantly, I know from my own experience of seeing many people who have been given a sit stand desk, that it’s essential that people are given training in the correct set up for them as individuals, at both sitting and standing heights, and also advice on how to start using them.. Some people believe they have to stand all day, but then realise after a few weeks that this is too tiring -hence Professor Hedges’ comment that they may stop using their desk in a standing position after a month. I would recommend building up the sit-stand ratio gradually from 15-20 minutes of standing to maybe an hour at a time, at the most, alternating with 30 to 60 minutes of sitting throughout the day.

Whether sitting or standing, it is important to still get away from the desk and move. Standing tends to allow people to change more easily rather than being anchored in a seat.

What is the ideal scenario?

Alan Hedges has quite a prescriptive system for working in the optimum way:-

Infographic showing ideal work pattern of movement every 30 minutes

“Sit to do computer work.

Sit using a height-adjustable, downward titling keyboard tray for the best work posture, then every 20 minutes stand for 8 minutes AND MOVE for 2 minutes.

The absolute time isn’t critical but about every 20-30 minutes take a posture break and stand and move for a couple of minutes. Simply standing is insufficient. Movement is important to get blood circulation through the muscles.”

If you are still wondering if a sit stand desk is right for you, take a look at this video by Australian Professor Kylie O’Brien, who has had personal experience of using a sit stand desk:.

Whether you sit or stand… get moving!

Looking at the research and knowing what I know, I’d say yes, sit-stand desks are certainly of benefit for some people. The evidence is out there that more movement in the workplace is good for us, and could even prevent deaths.

However, sit-stand desks are only one solution. I suggest you also check out other ways you can encourage the people in your workplace – yourself included – to move more. A health workplace is s not all about equipment, it’s definitely about workplace culture and habits.

Whichever path you decide to take, sitting, standing or sit-standing, just make sure you get up and move more in your day!