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Sitting Is the New Smoking: How Standing Desks Impact Employee Health

By Business.com Editorial Staff
Business.com / Business Solutions / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Sitting for 5+ hours at a desk is associated with an increased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. Can standing help?

You know it’s a certifiable trend when The Onion makes fun of it:

ROCHESTER, MN—In an effort to help working individuals improve their fitness and well-being, experts at the Mayo Clinic issued a new set of health guidelines Thursday recommending that Americans stand up at their desk, leave their office, and never return.

Standing up at your desk is no joke, however. According to the Smithsonian, prolonged sitting is the new smoking. Sitting for five hours or more at a desk, as the average office worker does, is associated with an increased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even cancer.

Think going to the gym offsets a day of sitting at your desk? Think again. According to The New York Times, people who regularly exercise are not immune to the effects of prolonged sitting. In fact, studies indicate that sitting a lot offsets the benefits of jogging a lot; people who exercise but spend more than three hours continuously sitting are just as fat as those who spend the same time sitting but don’t exercise at all.

A recent study by Annals of Internal Medicine as referenced by CNN found that "prolonged sitting, meaning sitting for eight to 12 hours or more a day, increased your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 90%." That's bad. Really bad.

Gammy Hamhock suffered a life-threatening and still debilitating severe deep vein thrombosis (a blood clot) attributed to prolonged sitting at work. His advice: get a standing desk.

Related Article: Health, Happiness and Office Design

Standing desk positionImage via Homedit

What to Look For in a Standing Desk

You can buy a standing desk for anywhere between $400 to $2,500, depending upon finish and accessories. According to The Wire Cutter, leading manufacturers include Jarvis, NextDesk and Kangaroo.

You can also hack your own using a variety of furniture components available at your local Ikea. You too can be standing at your desk for as little as $22 with a few easy-to-assemble parts. You might not even need a new desk at all—just get an on-desk attachment that raises the viewing level of the screen and the keyboard to a standing height.

Whatever route you take, look for these features:

Adjustable. This is particularly important if you’re ordering standing desks for employees, as one height does not fit all. Even for your own personal use, you might find that getting the right position to work comfortably standing up takes some trial and error. It’s worth the investment to get it right even if you never change the height once you find that sweet spot. Standing may be good for your health, but standing uncomfortably or the wrong way because you can’t adjust desk height can result in back or neck pain that defeats the whole purpose. Really expensive models are motorized, but hardly necessary.

Cable management and power strips. Unfortunately, our wireless devices still require wires, if only for charging. Open office plans require concealing cables for aesthetic reasons, not to mention safety.

Finish. Many finishes are available; it’s a matter of personal taste and office environment.

Rollers. These are particularly useful if you frequently reconfigure work spaces to accommodate changes in team structures and projects.

Warranty. Look for at least five years of protection.

Walking deskImage via Precision Nutrition

Get On the Office Treadmill, Literally

One other feature to consider is the treadmill desk, which gives new meaning to the notion of the “office treadmill.” Standing all day in one spot can be as detrimental to your health as sitting, the difference being that other body parts are affected, including your feet and lower back. Whether you are standing or sitting, you need to move around a little. Frequently. The treadmill concept takes this to a bit of an extreme, but the idea is right.

Walk around a bit while you’re on that conference call, do a couple of knee bends while you’re watching a video, shift your position regularly, or take a walk while you’re thinking over a problem. And whatever position you’re working in, if it starts to feel awkward or uncomfortable, it’s time to get in a new position. Which, come to think of it, is good advice not just for your desk, but your career plans.

Other Helpful Changes to Make

Sitting isn't the only thing causing your body harm in the workplace. We've long known that constant usage of computers and their accessories can cause repetitive motion injuries like carpal tunnel. Like the standing desk, some great ergonomic options exist like mouses, mouse pads and keyboards specifically designed to lessen the stress on your hands and wrists.

The Mayo Clinic also suggests the following precautions for carpal tunnel and similar injuries:

  • Reduce your force and relax your grip. Most people use more force than needed to perform many manual tasks. If your work involves a cash register, for instance, hit the keys softly. For prolonged handwriting, use a big pen with an oversized, soft grip adapter and free-flowing ink. This way you won't have to grip the pen tightly or press as hard on the paper.
  • Take frequent breaks. Give your hands and wrists a break by gently stretching and bending them periodically. Alternate tasks when possible. If you use equipment that vibrates or that requires you to exert a great amount of force, taking breaks is even more important.
  • Watch your form. Avoid bending your wrist all the way up or down. A relaxed middle position is best. If you use a keyboard, keep it at elbow height or slightly lower.
  • Improve your posture. Incorrect posture can cause your shoulders to roll forward. When your shoulders are in this position, your neck and shoulder muscles are shortened, compressing nerves in your neck. This can affect your wrists, fingers and hands.

Keep your hands warm. You're more likely to develop hand pain and stiffness if you work in a cold environment. If you can't control the temperature at work, put on fingerless gloves that keep your hands and wrists warm.

Article via HomeEdit.

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