Standing Desks Could Point the Way to a Healthier Workplace
If current trends are anything to go by, you may be reading this whilst at your own standing desk! Over the past few years, the appearance of the standing desk in the workplace – be it the office, or in the home – has proliferated. Today’s most popular companies like Google, Facebook, Disney, and Apple are already making the move to standing desks for their employees.
There is a growing body of evidence that high levels of sedentary behaviour and sitting, in particular, are emerging risk factors for chronic disease. Standing desks have the ability to reduce tiredness among workers and boost productivity. Research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in 2018 follows trials involving 146 workers, just over half of whom swapped their regular desks for sit-stand workstations. The study found those who went from relatively sedentary work lives to standing more often reported better engagement with their work and fewer musculoskeletal problems.
The researchers also measured mental health and job performance in the study. By the end of the trial, they found that people using standing desks were more engaged at work and better at their jobs than their chair-bound peers, with less job-related fatigue, less daily anxiety and higher overall quality of life. They also reported fewer lower back issues than the control group.
The research suggests that standing desks, which can be adjusted throughout to perfectly fit your height, may be a better option than static sitting. While too much sedentary time is a bad thing, although some research also suggested that being on your feet all day could take a toll on everything from physical comfort to productivity.
So, What Are the Statistics That Back Up The Standing Desk?
The average Australian spends almost 33 hours per week at the workplace with full-time workers, spending almost 40 hours per week at work. In addition to this, those working full time in jobs that involve ‘mostly sitting’ spend an average of 6.3 hours per day sitting at work. There is emerging evidence that shows an association between prolonged sitting and the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Type-2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke and premature mortality, even in physically active adults.
In another study, of 10 office workers, standing for 180 minutes after lunch reduced the blood sugar spike by 43% compared to sitting for the same amount of time. Furthermore, another study involving 23 office workers found that alternating between standing and sitting every 30 minutes throughout the workday reduced blood sugar spikes by 11.1% on average.
But Will Standing Desks Truly Catch On?
Standing desks are not just a fad; they are a cost-effective way to encourage people to move more. Inactivity is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic, and previous studies have shown sitting for large amounts of time every day is linked to poor health, including heart disease.
According to a study by SBS, Professor David Dunstan, head of the physical activity laboratory at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, says, prolonged sitting without breaks is bad for health. “We have fairly strong evidence now showing that high amounts of sitting compared to lower amounts of sitting is associated with increased risk of heart disease, Type-2 diabetes and even premature mortality,” Professor Dunstan told SBS News. “It appears once people are sitting for greater than six to eight hours a day that’s when the risks really start to elevate,” he said.
Economic modelling, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, found giving standing desks to 20 per cent of office workers would save $84 million in healthcare costs over their lives, by preventing obesity, Type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. With two-thirds of the adult population in Australia considered either overweight or obese, the researchers say the introduction of sit-stand desks could be a cost-effective way to reduce spiralling rates of obesity-related health issues. “Adopting this workplace intervention also has the potential to reduce absenteeism and improve productivity,” said lead author Dr Lan Gao, an Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Deakin Health Economics. “The introduction of sit-stand desks, alongside associated supports, is a cost-effective and innovative way to promote the health of Australia’s workforce.”
To counter this, whilst they may be increasing in popularity, a small Curtin University study of 20 people, published in journal Ergonomics, found standing desks my increase bodily pain and even slow down mental functioning. Says VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter “Our lifestyles – including our work life – have become more sedentary, leading to a range of health issues. There are a range of strategies workplaces can adopt to help their staff to sit less like sit-stand workstations, walking or standing meetings or simply setting prompts for workers to get up and stretch their legs.”
The standing desk is here to stay, and its advantages would seem to far outweigh its disadvantages. If you are an employee or employer, perhaps you should make 2020 the year that the standing desk comes into its own.