Research shows little proof that there are substantial health benefits to using a sit-stand workstation. Prolonged standing can put added pressure on the circulatory system, can decrease fine motor skills and requires more energy than sitting; within 1 hour an individual begins to fatigue and slouch. Many people think that standing all day will simply be ‘better’ than sitting, allowing for a different position and not feeling so ‘stuck’ sitting.
However, experts say long periods of sitting can change a person’s metabolism and can increase the risk of obesity and heart disease, along with a bevy of other potential health concerns from prolonged sitting.
That said, both sitting and standing are considered a static posture/position. Prolonged static-posture (not ‘moving’) increases loads/forces on muscles, which contributes to fatigue and muscle-tendon strain. Not moving, whether sitting or standing impedes the flow of blood that is needed to bring nutrients to the muscles. Standing at your workstation is not considered ‘moving’.
It is true that sitting uses less energy than standing, but research is weak with regards to standing helping an individual lose weight. Sitting does help to stabilize the body and is best when performing fine motor tasks such as computer work and writing. A person standing for an hour or longer will not only grow weary, but likely begin to shift their weight and lean on the desk for ‘support’- which only promotes a poor working posture and position.
However, it is crucial that a person ‘sitting’ all day still take breaks from that posture/position. Ergonomists for many years have recommended that sitting be broken up by task variation and moving throughout the day, preferably at least 3-5 minutes of every hour. This can be accomplished by using a printer, water fountain or break room further away than the usual or on another floor when possible; walking to talk to a colleague rather than sending an email/IM or simply walking a loop around the office or parking lot, along with using the stairs when possible.
In addition to increased movement throughout the day, a good seated workstation will have a proper ergonomic set-up and a fully adjustable chair set for the user to assist in promoting and maintaining a neutral posture and position during seated tasks.
Workstation issues that need to be addressed are the ability to adjust the keyboard, mouse and monitor, if alternating from standing and sitting. Often the appropriate height/adjustment of those items will be different between sitting and standing; so simply adjusting the desk up and down will not account for all needed adjustments. As a result, there can be many additional ergonomic risk factors created when all of the equipment is not set-up for the user (differently) in both sitting and standing.
These simple steps are crucial in avoiding the negative health effects of office inactivity.
An individual who gets regular movement (which is not accomplished by simply standing at work) throughout the work day does not need a sit/stand workstation, unless a specific health issue necessitates it (such as sciatica or restless leg syndrome). In addition, engaging the big leg muscles during movement throughout the day will kick start the metabolism, burn additional calories over the course of a work day and provide additional health benefits!
The Bottom Line
Neither static standing nor static sitting for prolonged periods of time is recommended. Sit to do computer work with a proper ergonomic workstation set-up and an adjustable ‘task’ chair that meets your needs. Get up and move around at least 3-5 minutes every hour to increase circulation and feed your muscles the oxygen they need throughout the day. Research shows you don’t need to do vigorous exercise to receive the benefits of movement, simply walking around is sufficient. A standing workstation in most scenarios is not needed if the person is getting up and moving around throughout the day and seated at an ergonomically set-up workstation.
For more information on office and industrial ergonomics, products and furniture, you will find additional articles on the JR Ergonomics Blog.
If you would like more information on setting up your workstation, choosing the right ergonomic chair and furniture, or have other ergonomic questions, please contact Jennifer Rappaport, MOTR/L, CPE at JR Ergonomics via email or phone. 503-380-5550 • firstname.lastname@example.org