Sit Stand Desks and Your Health
With modern technology transforming how we do things, our work—and our lives—are becoming increasingly sedentary. The problem is the human body is designed to move, just like we did for our entire existence, from early hunter-gatherer civilizations to the rise of agricultural and industrial societies. Without regular movement in our “jobs of daily living” (called occupations in the field of Occupational Therapy), the body languishes. Public health and medical research is starting to quantify the extent and nature of this problem, as some refer to as the sitting epidemic.
In total, Americans employed in sedentary professions are sitting an average of 11 hours a day between sitting at work, commuting, sitting for leisure, and sitting for meals. Daytime sitting, in addition to sleeping an average of 8 hours, adds up to a sedentary lifestyle of around 19 hours each day¹, as a conservative estimate.
Even with moderate to vigorous exercise speckled in the week, 19 hours a day is a lot to recover from, and even healthy adults face serious health risks related to this amount of sitting. Wonder why you keep hearing “Sitting is the new smoking”?
The research supporting getting out of the chair at work is overwhelming. Sitting is a public health crisis and contributes to a multitude of detrimental health conditions, which is exactly why organizations with employee well-being in mind are looking for sitting alternatives for the workplace. Here’s some of what the research is saying:
Too much sitting causes musculoskeletal disorders, aches and pains.
Musculoskeletal disorders, or MSDs, result from repetitive or prolonged body mechanics in a non-ideal work pattern, and can be linked to computer and desk work. MSDs are a serious problem, putting people out of work and costing organizations billions of dollars each year in workers compensation costs. Using a transitional sit-stand desk has been shown to reduce the aches and pains caused by over-use of computer workstations.²
Prolonged sitting has contributed to the obesity epidemic.
Over the last 50 years in the U.S., everyday work-related energy expenditure has decreased causing an overall increase in average body weights.³ This is no surprise, as standing and moving burns more calories and engages more muscle tone than sitting. Furthermore, during clinical trials, there were immediate benefits when obese or overweight persons regularly transitioned between sitting and standing to do their work; it reduced fatigue, decreased lower back pain, and lowered blood pressure⁴’⁵.
Prolonged sitting is associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and early death⁶.
Recently, the fourth leading global risk factor for mortality has been identified as inactivity⁷. Physiological mechanisms contributing to these health conditions include the shutting down of enzymes that typically burn harmful fats, reduced metabolic rate, disruption of blood sugar levels and increase of insulin production, and increase of blood pressure. These serious health risks related to sedentary behavior have been documented independent of physical activity.⁸’⁹
Excessive sitting is linked to cancer.
Specifically, studies have linked excessive sitting to breast cancer in women, other cancers in women, and colon cancer¹⁰’¹¹. Beyond simply reducing sedentary time, research indicates that it takes activity levels several times beyond standard recommendations to reduce risk. Too much sitting increases depression. In men and women of all ages and education levels, more sitting amounts to poorer mental health.¹²’¹³
In desk workers who are typically active, sitting at work decreases mental well-being and sitting during non-work hours decreases productivity when at work.¹⁴
Since our jobs of daily living cannot all be done on the move, alternating between sitting, standing, and moving when we work is the best way to prevent minor and serious health conditions. The workplace has immense leverage in the reduction of sitting time to improve health, and—through modification of the work environment, our habits and thinking—the modern workplace has the power to make a real impact on global wellness. From the idea of walking meetings to sit-stand desks, its time the desk worker moves beyond the chair.
Dr. Nikki Weiner OTD, OTR/L, AOEAS serves as the ergonomics advisor and research contributor to SitStandDesk.com. She is trained as an Advanced Office Ergonomic Assessment Specialist. In addition to her work with SitStandDesk.com, she is a licensed Occupational Therapist and co-founder of The Rising Workplace, where she performs workplace ergonomic assessment, consulting, and training in settings that range from corporate offices to industrial work sites. Nikki’s work centers on the dynamic relationship between personal, environmental, and occupational factors in the workplace, with outcomes focused on employee performance, injury prevention, and well-being.
Her other professional roles include being a clinical educator, researcher, and clinician in the adult neuro-rehabilitation field. Nikki’s professional work has been published in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, OTJR: Occupation, Participation, and Health, and Today in OT magazine.
Nikki earned a Bachelors in Biological Sciences from the University of Georgia and a Doctorate of Occupational Therapy at Washington University in St. Louis.
- Tudor-Locke, Catrine, et al. "Time spent in physical activity and sedentary behaviors on the working day: the American time use survey." Journal of occupational and environmental medicine 53.12 (2011): 1382-1387.
- Robertson, Michelle M., Vincent M. Ciriello, and Angela M. Garabet. "Office ergonomics training and a sit-stand workstation: Effects on musculoskeletal and visual symptoms and performance of office workers." Applied ergonomics 44.1 (2013): 73-85.
- Church, Timothy S., et al. "Trends over 5 decades in US occupation-related physical activity and their associations with obesity." PloS one 6.5 (2011): e19657.
- Danquah, Ida Høgstedt, et al. "Effects on musculoskeletal pain from “Take a Stand!”–a cluster-randomized controlled trial reducing sitting time among office workers." Scandinavian journal of work, environment & health 43.4 (2017): 350-357.
- Thorp, Alicia A., et al. "Breaking up workplace sitting time with intermittent standing bouts improves fatigue and musculoskeletal discomfort in overweight/obese office workers." Occup Environ Med 71.11 (2014): 765-771.
- Wilmot, Emma G., et al. "Sedentary time in adults and the association with diabetes, cardiovascular disease and death: systematic review and meta-analysis." (2012): 2895-2905.
- Mathers, C., G. Stevens, and M. Mascarenhas. "Global health risks: mortality and burden of disease attributable to selected major risks: World Health Organization." Geneva, Switzerland(2009).
- Matthews, Charles E., et al. "Amount of time spent in sedentary behaviors and cause-specific mortality in US adults–." The American journal of clinical nutrition 95.2 (2012): 437-445.
- Greer, Anna E., et al. "The effects of sedentary behavior on metabolic syndrome independent of physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness." Journal of Physical Activity and Health 12.1 (2015): 68-73.
- Kyu, Hmwe H., et al. "Physical activity and risk of breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and ischemic stroke events: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013." bmj 354 (2016): i3857. Zhou, Yingchun, Hongyang
- Zhao, and Cheng Peng. "Association of sedentary behavior with the risk of breast cancer in women: update meta-analysis of observational studies." Annals of epidemiology 25.9 (2015): 687-697.
- Asztalos, Melinda, et al. "Cross-sectional associations between sitting time and several aspects of mental health in Belgian adults." Journal of Physical Activity and Health 12.8 (2015): 1112-1118.
- Zhai, Long, Yi Zhang, and Dongfeng Zhang. "Sedentary behaviour and the risk of depression: a meta-analysis." Br J Sports Med 49.11 (2015): 705-709.
- Puig-Ribera, Anna, et al. "Self-reported sitting time and physical activity: interactive associations with mental well-being and productivity in office employees." BMC public health15.1 (2015): 72.