It is well documented that a sedentary lifestyle and sitting still for long periods during the day can have an adverse effect on health. The effects can include heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer; and prolonged static postures can contribute to backache, depression and muscle degeneration. Our bodies are designed to stand and move for long periods of time. Even when standing still, we automatically shift our weight and move around while standing, which helps exercise the muscles, and prevents the repetitive stress and muscle degeneration caused by sitting for long periods.
There are lots of debates currently about the benefits of standing desks, or sit/stand desks which allow the individual to alter the height of the desk so that some of the time can be spent sitting, some time spent standing. For people with certain musculo-skeletal conditions, such as back pain or neck pain, this would improve comfort and offer them the flexibility to alter their working position to maintain the best comfort levels. Both sitting and standing desks have their advantages and disadvantages. A standing desk wouldn’t necessarily suit everyone as all individuals are different, and some people find sitting desks more comfortable and some find standing desks more comfortable.
The important point to note is that it isn’t just ‘sitting’ that causes health problems, it is the absence of movement, so that would be whether you sat for long periods of time or stood for long periods of time. Therefore, regardless of the type of desk it is important that individuals factor in some movement time into their working day. Instead of making financial commitments to change all desks to standing desks, encouraging more movement built into the working day.
An expert consensus statement commissioned by Public Health England and the Active Working Community gives guidelines for employers on how best to help workers avoid long periods of sedentary work. They advise employees to build up to standing for between two to four hours during the working day. This time should also include ‘light walking’ and incidental movement such as walking to the photocopier, going to talk to a colleague. The important point is to break up periods of sitting regularly throughout the day. To encourage this, there are simple low cost strategies that people could adopt, which include using a timer to remind them to move, arrange standing or walking meetings, or book meeting rooms which involve a longer walk to get to.
A good solution to the expense of providing everyone with sit/stand desks that are height adjustable, or with just standing desks, would be to offer a number of standing desks, or height adjustable desks, which could be used for short periods of time during the working day by different people. This gives flexibility for changes in working posture for a number of people without the expense of changing all the equipment for everyone. For those with back conditions or musculo-skeletal conditions that are aggravated by sitting, a height adjustable desk would be a sensible option to consider. There are also desk raisers that can be used to raise the level of the keyboard and screen on the existing desk, which may well be a cheaper suitable alternative that can be used for other other employees if necessary in the future.