Standing desks—the up-and-down workstations that let us take a break from sitting at work all day—aren’t going to solve the problem of an inactive lifestyle.
In fact, says a University of Alberta ergonomics expert, sitting in a well-designed chair is still better for the body than standing for too long at a raised desk.
“There’s a misconception that a sit-to-stand workstation tackles a sedentary lifestyle. People may believe that if they are standing instead of sitting all the time, it equates to exercise. It doesn’t,” said Linda Miller, an adjunct professor of occupational therapy in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.
“A sit-to-stand situation gives a change in posture, but it’s not about movement.”
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, Canadian office workers spend 77 to 80 per cent of working hours in prolonged sitting periods. That’s led to the notion of a “sitting disease” when the real problem is physical inactivity, she said.
“In the past, before we moved to a paperless workplace, many of our tasks required us to get up and move: going to the photocopier, filing, sorting mail. There was a lot more need for movement. Now so much more is computer-driven, so those natural activity breaks aren’t integrated into the workday.
“The body is designed to move, so it’s hard to be in one fixed position,” said Miller, who suggests taking a break every 30 to 45 minutes to go for a two-minute walk. “Move around at least once every hour.”
While sitting at a desk for too long can strain the back and shoulders, people who stand for long periods while they work can start to experience knee, hip and lower back issues.
“Having good support for the body is critical, and it’s hard to do that standing. The body typically tolerates sitting better than standing, if you have a well-fitted chair that offers full support.
“If you had to decide between a proper chair versus a sit-to-stand workstation, I would always pick the chair,” added Miller, who consults on workplace ergonomics. “But that doesn’t mean sitting for hours at a time.”
Adjustable desks do offer the advantage of letting people adjust their posture, but whether sitting or standing, it’s key to sit or stand up straight. “It’s not enough to go into upward posture; it has to be good posture.”
Miller offers these tips for properly using a sit-to-stand desk:
“Don’t sit at a desk for more than 30 to 45 minutes, and stand no more than 10 to 15 minutes every hour. And keep in mind that you still need to move, to get away from the workstation. Ask yourself, are you taking your breaks during the day?” Miller suggests using coffee breaks and lunch hours to go for walks and taking the stairs when possible. “You don’t have to do it at a gym; there are so many ways to incorporate movement into your day.”
Stand with a staggered stance.
Put one foot slightly in front of the other or use a footrest to prop one foot up. “This puts the pelvis in a more neutral position.” When feet are flat on the ground, people tend to hyperextend and fatigue the lower back. Miller suggests alternating feet on the footrest to avoid too much pressure on the opposite hip.
Don’t lock your knees.
“There’s a natural tendency to do this to stabilize ourselves, but it’s hard on the legs. Keep a slight bend in the knee.”
Have your keyboard and mouse at elbow height.
“It allows the shoulder to be relaxed and keeps the elbow joint nice and open, not tight.” The phone and other desk accessories should also be at desktop height.
Make sure your monitor is at the correct viewing height.
To avoid neck and upper back pain, “You should be able to look straight ahead at the screen, not tilting your head up or down to see it.“
Wear the right shoes.
“This means footwear that supports the foot on all sides, so not a high heel or a flip-flop. It could be a runner or a loafer, something with a cushioned insole.”
Source: University of Alberta