A mix of sitting, standing, and periodic movement may be the ideal.
It’s old news that sedentary lifestyles that include sitting at a desk all day can contribute to medical problems and diminish worker productivity. In fact, the Mayo Clinic lists some of the health risks involved in sitting too much as increase in blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and excess body fat. Sitting frequently can also potentially increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer which can have fatal results.
Adding to the problem is that infrequent bouts of “moderate or vigorous” exercise don’t seem to balance out the health risks caused by sitting nearly all day, every day. So what is the prescription for a healthier workplace?
In search of a better office
In response to these concerns, many companies have given employees the option of using standing desks based on research that metabolism shifts when individuals move out of a sitting position. Numerous studies have indicated that the simple act of standing up changes metabolic processes in the body, often for the better. But new research also seems to indicate that the variation of positions and the overall amount of movement at work may have a greater impact on health than how much time an individual spends by simply sitting versus standing.
Organizations in motion
Sports scientist Jack Groppel conducted experiments that found mixing up the workday “with short movements and exercises” boosts health, engagement, and productivity.
His program, Organizations in MOTION, was tested for three months at two offices run by the sneaker company New Balance. During the study, approximately 750 Employees were encouraged to incorporate some form of physical activity into their workday at intervals of every half hour. Of 239 individuals who completed a survey at the end of the trial, 42 percent claimed that they had increased “engagement and concentration” while doing their job.
The implication of the study is that movement improves performance during intellectual work, in addition to having well-known health benefits.
“‘A lot of people are doing this type of thing, moving at regular intervals throughout the day, but it’s [for] all around health,’” Groppel told Forbes. “We were looking specifically at what happens with the brain, what happens with energy, what happens with engagement.”
Sit, stand, and walk
Further data indicate that a mix of positions may be the best bet in the workplace. A white paper published by the office furniture design company SteelCase has summarized research reinforcing the idea that varying movement and position enhances both health and employee productivity. “The results added new weight to what has become common knowledge since the days of Ramazini: that inactivity at work and at home can have a significant negative impact on human physiology.” SteelCase further states that, “The research findings support the idea that movement during the day while sitting, walking or standing, is critical to maintaining wellness—through everything from fewer repetitive motion injuries to reduced weight gain—fostering greater concentration and engagement and boosting productivity.”
SteelCase argues that maintaining a proper posture while seated, and significant variation between seated work, standing work, and periods of movement are the keys to employee health and performance.
Ways to introduce movement
At a minimum, height adjustable workstations (aka “standing desks”) are one way for an office worker to vary his position during the day while stationed at a computer. At another extreme, some researchers have experimented with the impact of treadmill enabled work stations.
For more practical, everyday suggestions, Groppel advocates that employees find little ways to increase movement within an office, including taking the stairs, walking to meetings, sitting on an exercise ball, visiting coworkers instead of using email, or walking to a farther bathroom.