Standing at Work

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Last week here at Diabetes Flashpoints, we discussed the decline of physical activity around the world, particularly the decline in work-related physical activity. As manual labor becomes less common and office jobs more so, in countries ranging from China to the United States, workers are moving less at work and, as a result, moving less overall.

One partial solution to this problem may be giving office workers the option to stand for part or all of the workday. While standing is not quite the same as physical activity (although it can lead to increased walking), evidence shows that it offers many benefits over remaining sedentary, including a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and overall death. Given these benefits, researchers (along with a device manufacturer) decided to test the practicality of a flexible workspace that lets people switch between sitting and standing.

Published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease earlier this month, the study involved 34 office workers who were normally sedentary in their workspaces. All were given cell phones and sent text messages at three random times throughout the workday asking whether they were sitting, standing, or walking, for the duration of the seven-week study. After one week, 24 of the participants had sit/stand devices installed in their workspaces, allowing them to stand for as much of the day as they liked. Four weeks later, the devices were removed and monitoring continued for another two weeks.

According to the text-message responses, the sit/stand devices reduced the amount of time participants sat by an average of 66 minutes each day, for a 224% increase in the amount of time spent standing (including walking). Not surprisingly, the ten participants who did not receive the devices experienced no increase in time spent standing. According to surveys given to participants at the end of the survey, 87% of those who had used the devices reported feeling more comfortable at work as a result; 87% felt more energized; 75% felt healthier; 71% felt more focused; 66% felt more productive; 62% felt happier; and 33% felt less stressed. Some participants also volunteered that they felt less lower-back, shoulder, wrist, or elbow pain, or that their posture had improved.

As a Medscape article on the study notes, the practice of collecting information on sitting and standing by text message, randomly, means that researchers did not gain a detailed picture of how participants used their sit/stand devices, which might be helpful in designing future workspaces with such devices. Most importantly, though, the study showed that office workers will stand up more when given the option.

Do you have the option of standing, or walking around, at work? If so, are you glad to have this option, and do you make use of it? Should all offices offer sit/stand devices to workers who might otherwise have to sit for most of the day? What about treadmills for walking? Would you use these devices at work if they were provided at no cost to you? Would it matter if you were the only one, or whether your coworkers also used them? Leave a comment below!

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