Faculty and staff 'stand up' to sitting at work
Attention, people who sit eight hours a day, five days a week at a desk job: There is another way.
For those who'd rather not sit for at least part of the workday, a standing desk workstation may be a good -- and healthier -- alternative.
Enough people must think so, since this stand-up alternative has become a sensation that is sweeping the nation, according to reports from NBC News, the New York Times and Men's Fitness magazine, among other major media organizations.
Mississippi State University faculty members and researchers agreed that standing to work can reverse the negative impacts of sitting constantly. Inactivity studies have demonstrated that sitting at work all day every day increases the risks of death and heart problems, even with regular exercise regimens outside the office.
"When we work at a standing desk, what we're doing is actually promoting the natural S curve in the back, particularly at the lower region," said assistant professor Kari Babski-Reeves, an industrial ergonomics and work physiology specialist at the university. "All of your weight is distributed at your feet instead of the back of your legs and your bum, so you have better blood flow."
Lesley Strawderman, an ergonomics authority in consumer product design, agreed. People who stand at work will be less fatigued and better focused on their work, the assistant professor said.
"Don't be afraid to move. You'll be keeping your muscles active and avoiding those static types of postures," Strawderman said. "About every 30 minutes, you need to change posture -- at standing workstations, have a stool to lean back on or a foot rail. Adjust how your body's handling the pressure."
To be comfortable, a standing workstation needs to complement the physiology of the person using it, the researchers said.
"Use a good gel- or standing-support mat. This will help to relieve some of the stress on the lower back when standing on a hard surface," Babski-Reeves said. "Make sure to wear good support shoes: for example, running or other type of flat-soled shoes with arch and ankle support."
Women should wear flat-soled shoes when working, she recommended.
"They can wear their heels to meetings or other events, but they should not spend significant amounts of time, say 20 minutes or more, working in standing positions with heels higher than 1 inch," Babski-Reeeves said.
Heights of the computer monitor and keyboard also are important factors to consider, Strawderman said.
"The optimal height would be a little bit below your elbow height," she said. "A neutral posture a little below the elbow helps prevent shoulder injuries. The monitor should be just below your eyeball level to prevent neck fatigue and eye strain."
Babski-Reeves and Strawderman said movement -- whether standing or sitting -- is critical to physical comfort, and standing can certainly enhance productivity.
"There's nothing you can't do on a standing one that you can do on the sitting one," Babski-Reeves said. "All the same rules apply; all you're doing is changing your body position."
Jason Tiffin, senior web developer and team leader for MSU's Enterprise Information Systems, has had a standing desk since early 2012.
"I'm active, I move around a lot and I can't stand sitting down for long periods of time," he said. "That first month after I got the standing desk, I would find myself saying, 'Sit down,' not because I was tired but because that was what I was used to for 15 years. I would get to my desk and sit down.
"No matter what your exercise routine or diet, if you sit 8 hours, you're 18 percent more likely to have a heart attack," Tiffin said.
Designer Dale Moore, senior team leader at the university's Design Research & Informatics Lab, said he is creating his own standing workstation with his brother Blake, of Columbus. While Moore doesn't plan to bring it to campus, he thinks using it at home will provide relief from lower back and shoulder aches.
"I am a follower of the website Lifehacker, where they feature people's workstations a lot, and they seemed to have an obsession with standing desks and their health and productivity benefits," Moore said. "Always looking for ways to increase my productivity, and now looking at ways to help improve my posture and health, I decided to try to make one since buying one is out of my price range."
In addition to helping improve his posture, Moore said he expects the homemade stand-up workstation to make him more productive.
"It also will be easier to take the necessary occasional breaks and walk away to allow eye rest to decrease strain, wrist rest to decrease chances of carpal tunnel and breaks necessary to come back to look at my design work with fresh eyes to more easily notice mistakes," Moore said.
Moore, Tiffin, Strawderman and Babski-Reeves emphasized people -- colleagues, family and friends -- should keep an open mind when considering a change to standing for part of the workday.
"Having the option to sit or stand while still being able to do your work can only be a benefit," Moore said. "Even if it ends up not working out, and you prefer to just sit, you can choose to do so.
"Basically, there are no downsides to giving it a shot."
Leah Barbour | University Relations