One Antidote to Sitting Too Much at Work: Stand

We have reported frequently on the importance of moving — not sitting — regularly at work.

Of course, in some work environments, finding the time or space to move can be difficult (though, of course, we all can take stairs instead of elevators, hold walking meetings, etc.). A new study highlights the benefits of a simple antidote to sitting: Stand.

Reports the University of Pittsburgh: “Alternating positions between standing and sitting while performing deskwork could make the difference in whether the thin red needle in your bathroom scale tilts to the left or the right of your goal weight.”

“A new study from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Education examined the potential weight management benefits of sit-stand desks. Pitt’s researchers found that regular use of a height-adjustable workstation, when combined with other low-intensity activities, is an effective measure for maintaining weight for most people.”

The study, titled “Energy expenditure of deskwork when sitting, standing or alternating positions,” was published by the Oxford Journal of Occupational Medicine.

Said Bethany Barone Gibbs, the study’s lead researcher and an assistant professor of health and physical activity within Pitt’s School of Education: 

“Sit-stand desks are an easy way to get a boost in energy expenditure that fits into America’s current office culture. By combining the act of standing for part of the day with other casual activities—say, opting to walk to the printer farthest away from your work area or choosing to use the restroom that’s located a couple of flights of stairs away—you can achieve a meaningful amount of extra energy expenditure while at work that could aid in weight control. It is important that we understand standing at work isn’t going to burn as many calories as going for a brisk walk or a long run. However, our findings add to a growing field of research that shows the benefits of sit-stand desks, including increases in productivity and energy, and lower pain, blood sugar, and potentially blood pressure.”

The Pitt report continues:

“The study found that if an individual were to stand for half of one hour—30 minutes—they could burn 5.5 more calories than they would have by sitting for that entire hour. Standing for the full hour burned an extra 8.2 calories. Switching evenly between sitting and standing over the course of an eight-hour day—four hours sitting and four hours standing—could result in an energy expenditure of as much as 56.9 calories for men and 48.3 calories for women.”

Pitt’s researchers acknowledge that the actual caloric expenditure from using a sit-stand desk in isolation is modest. Within their research, they point to separate studies that suggest small increases in daily physical activity, just 100 calories per day, would be enough to prevent weight gain in most individuals. When aligned with such advice, researchers believe regular usage of sit-stand desks could be one of many small energy expenditure changes in the work environment that would help office workers to maintain their weight.

The Hamster Wheel Desk

“Much has been made of the potential health risks of sitting at your desk all day, leading some to opt for a standing work surface. Now comes a walking desk that to keep your body not only upright, but moving. The folks at Autodesk’s Pier 9 fabrication facility in San Francisco have developed something even a step beyond a treadmill, the circular hamster wheel, minus the spokes,” CBS San Francisco reports.

“The product was created using Autodesk design tools. The structure took about 24 hours to construct. They’ve even offered instructions on how to design and build your own on the instructables website.”

Too Much Sitting Hurts All of Us — Even Sports Fans?

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The negative effects of too much sitting continue to get noticed.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University, confirms “For every half-hour working in an office, people should sit for 20 minutes, stand for eight minutes and then move around and stretch for two minutes.” This is “based on a review of studies that he has presented at corporate seminars and expects to publish.”

The post states: “The British Journal of Sports Medicine earlier this year published guidelines for sitting from an international panel of experts, including Dr. Hedge. The panel recommends a combined two to four hours of standing and light activity spread throughout the workday. And research from NASA has found that standing up for two minutes 16 times a day while at work is an effective strategy for maintaining bone and muscle density.”

More confirmation on the ills of sitting via the WSJ piece: “Studies have found that sedentary behavior, including sitting for extended periods, increases the risk for developing dozens of chronic conditions, from cancer and diabetes to cardiovascular disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.”

For a tongue -in-cheek look at this serious problem, see the Wall Street Journal sports reporter’s lament: “Sports Sitting Will Kill Us All: Amid a growing belief in the long-term health risks of sitting, what is a sports fan to do?”

No Sitting Down for an Entire Month

“If you sit down more than 11 hours a day, one study suggests, you’re 40 percent more likely to die in the next three years than I am. I’m standing up. I’ve been standing up all day. I’ll be standing up all month, in fact, without a break. I expect at the end of that month I’ll be sore but triumphant, glowing with smug enlightenment,” Dan Kois writes in New York Magazine.

“Reading the research, I’ve become convinced that sitting around all day is the worst thing I do to my body—that, like smoking, plopping down on our collective ass makes us profoundly likelier to die earlier. The effects have nothing to do with regular exercise; indeed, it seems that being sedentary when you’re not exercising eliminates many of its benefits. Sitting all day lowers your good cholesterol and raises your risk of diabetes. Sitting down, you burn a single measly calorie each minute.”

“And so a growing cadre of lean, mean, self-satisfied office workers are exploring standing or even walking on a treadmill at work. They’re trying to maximize their vigor, and also the tiny muscle movements that standing fosters—weight-shifting, stretching, walking around. Sitters, meanwhile, are basically already corpses: Their “muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse,” a researcher memorably told The New York Times Magazine.”

“If sitting at work is terrible for me, shouldn’t I stop? And if I do, shouldn’t I stop sitting everywhere? I decided to spend a month on my feet: 30 days never being a couch potato, an office slug, a sitting duck. The exceptions, agreed upon with my editor: I would sit to drive (but would strive to take the train); I would sit when nature called. I would also sit to put my shoes on, I decided this morning after falling over trying to put on my shoes. I would lie down to sleep, although I surely wouldn’t need sleep, given that I’d be so healthy.”

How Prolonged Sitting Can Hurt You

The risks of too much sitting and not enough standing are much discussed on this blog — what we’ve often referred to as “Sitting is the New Smoking.”

The call to stand also exists overseas: GetBritainStanding.org offers a range of information on the risks of too much sitting, as well as how to address the problem — particularly in the workplace. It also offers a nifty “Sitting Calculator.”

According to the site, “in recent years a variety of major international research (see below) has produced compelling evidence that sitting more than 4 hours each day leads to:

  • “The enzymes responsible for burning fat shutting down”
  • “Reduced metabolic rate”
  • “Stopping of the electricity flow in the legs”

The site further reveals the Top 10 risks from too much sitting, noting that “these risks grow significantly for people who sit longer than 4 hours each day:”

  1. Heart / Cardiovascular disease
  2. Diabetes
  3. Cancer
  4. Obesity
  5. High blood pressure
  6. Muscle degeneration
  7. Back ache / Neck pain
  8. Osteoporosis
  9. Depression
  10. Dementia
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It’s Time to Stand Up During Meetings

Not only are meetings in the workplace interminable, but they often run back to back. Without realizing, it’s easy to spend hours sitting around a conference table.

While we have reported previously the benefits of walking meetings, this week we’ve described a simple activity to do during meetings where walking may not be possible: Stand.

Standing meetings can be an effective tool for well-run workplace wellness programs that seek new ways to engage employees in healthy activities.

We’ve highlighted a report from Workplace Insights, which states: 

“People who stand in meetings may enjoy a number of health benefits, but it can also make them feel self-conscious, anxious about how others perceive them, and disengaged from the meeting.”

It continues: “These findings… suggest that efforts to encourage office workers to sit less and move more must acknowledge the realities of the workplace that conspire to keep people chained to their seats.”

It turns out, individuals perceive benefits from standing during meetings, but there clearly exist social barriers that a well-run workplace wellness program — through effective engagement and communications tactics — can address.

The authors interviewed 25 people about standing meetings:

  • “Some participants found standing unexpectedly physically taxing, reporting aches and pains, though this seemed to have arisen from their attempts to stand for the duration of the meeting. We did not instruct them to stand for the entirety of the meeting; because prolonged static standing can also harm health, the best strategy is to alternate between standing and sitting, or to move – for example, by rocking on your heels – while standing.”
  • “But the biggest issue people had with standing in meetings was that they found it a social minefield. The people we interviewed felt self-conscious while standing and worried that other attendees would see them as “attention seekers” because they were breaking an unwritten rule by not sitting.”

Other concerns:

  • “Standing when the meeting host was sitting would be seen as a challenge to the host’s authority.”
  • Standing would be interpreted as a lack of commitment to the meeting, as if they were getting ready to leave.”
  • “These concerns were most pronounced in serious or formal meetings. One person, for example, felt that it was inappropriate to stand when discussing job losses, for fear of being perceived to be belittling the seriousness of the meeting topic.”