The research is pretty clear. Sitting all day – sedentary behavior – isn't good for us (see white paper 'What's wrong with sitting?').
If you're an office worker the experts are pretty clear on what you need to do:
“…workers should aim to initially progress towards accumulating 2 h/day of standing and light activity (light walking) during working hours, eventually progressing to a total accumulation of 4 h/day (prorated to part-time hours). To achieve this, seated-based work should be regularly broken up with standing-based work, the use of sit–stand desks, or the taking of short active standing breaks.” †
But if you want to implement sit-stand workstations successfully you'd be wise to consider the latest research findings about how to make sit-stand workstations truly effective.
Wellnomics has published a summary of the findings of nearly 50 published research studies on the subject to identify facts behind the hype. The recommendations below summarize the key findings from this research (for full white paper see 'Are sit stand workstations worth the investment?').
Consider the design of the sit-stand workstation carefully
The latest European standard recommends sit/stand workstations support an adjustability range between 26-49 inches (650-1250mm)†. Electric desk height adjustment is preferable to manual adjustment. The lower effort required and greater ease of use means users of electric sit-stand workstations are more likely to adjust the desk often†. Preferably, the whole desk surface should be raised and lowered so different tasks are not impeded by the change in working position. In addition, all cables should be able to move easily when the work surface is adjusted.
A carpeted or other softer surface has found to be better than a harder surface (concrete or lino) in terms of perceived comfort†, lower leg swelling† and fatigue†. Wearing comfortable flat-soled or non-heeled shoes when standing is also important and has been found to decrease the prevalence of varicose veins†.
The risks of prolonged standing are well established and it's important that in the move to increase standing time these risks are not overlooked. Sit-stand workstations should be used to provide a way for workers to vary their position not to simply stand to work†. Additionally, workers should be given time to adapt to a new standing working style – with a gradual transition to increased standing time over time†.
Users should be provided with up-to-date information about the risks of prolonged sitting and standing and the benefits of varying working positions throughout the day†. Training should be provided so that the operation of the sit-stand workstation are well understood and optimal working heights in both standing and sitting positions are clear for each user. Training should include advice on footwear, standing surface and guidelines for optimal times to be spent sitting or standing (see further below). Software reminders can enhance the uptake and use of the sit-stand workstations and increase posture variation†.
Based upon a detailed consideration of the research standing should be at least 10 minutes per hour but less than 45 minutes before a transition to sitting, with at least two transitions between sitting and standing per hour. Over time standing should be increased to at least 20-25 minutes per hour in order to achieve the guideline of 4 hours standing per day†.
Overall this implies at least two postural changes per hour, or 16 postural changes in an 8 hour work day. Considering the relatively high frequency of the postural changes this represents, together with the need to substantially increase standing time but also not stand too long, it's likely that users may find it challenging to maintain the an ideal sit-stand protocol consistently over time. The use of reminders of some sort may therefore be key to ensuring satisfactory compliance and maximize utilization of sit-stand workstations.
The research* appears to strongly support sit-stand workstations for achieving the significant reductions in sedentary behavior that experts are asking for. Positives to sit-stand workstations include:
Achieving optimal health benefits from sit-stand workstations means getting users to:
A significant behavior change is therefore required for users to realize the full health benefits of their sit-stand workstation and avoid any potential negatives. For employers considering the implementation of sit-stand workstations making sure they will be properly utilized by staff is key to achieving a good return-on-investment. Research is still needed on the best ways to achieve optimal and sustainable utilization of sit-stand workstations by staff without requiring employers to invest considerable additional resources in training, coaching and ongoing support for users of sit-stand workstations.
This information is an abridged version of the 14 page Wellnomics white paper 'Are sit-stand workstations worth the investment? What the research says about sit-stand workstations, including how to ensure you get the benefits you’re paying for'.
* See Wellnomics white paper 'What's wrong with sitting?'
† For references see full Wellnomics white paper 'Are sit-stand workstations worth the investment?'