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.”

The Potential Health Benefits of Standing at Work

With more and more research linking a sedentary lifestyle to mortality and chronic diseases, faculty and students at Jacksonville University are conducting a study aimed at showing the impacts of standing on student health. The Florida Times Union reports that Jacksonville University will use “standing desks,” to help reduce the eight to nine hours that a college student spends sitting during the day.

Jacksonville’s study begins on the heels of a recent NPR article stating that standing desks are more or less just a fad and not proven to have any significant health benefits.

According to occupational health researcher Dr. Jos Verbeek, they could even have negative effects like a high risk of hospitalization for enlarged veins. On the other hand, Lucas Carr, a behavioral medicine professor at the University of Iowa believes that those who stand in moderation on a daily basis will eventually see benefits, as more calories are burned while standing.

This new research, a part of Jacksonville’s Florida EPIC (Entrepreneurism, Policy, Innovation, and Commerce) Program, hopes to make students more productive and engaged in their education by reducing sitting time—ultimately resulting in students more fit to enter the workforce.

To measure their success, the Jacksonville researchers will assess the students’ physical and mental health at various points throughout the semester. Dr. Heather Hausenblas, the lead researcher and professor of Kinesiology at Jacksonville hopes to find that standing instead of sitting at the desks “reduces students’ level of stress; increases their focus, memory, and productivity; and affects their quality of life.”

College students are a segment of the population that spend a large portion of their free time sedentary and when coupled with long seated lectures, the hours can quickly add up. Dr. Hausenblas states that there has not been a study involving standing desks and college students, but studies with young children and middle-aged adults have shown promising results.

The study at Jacksonville is very similar to a recent study at a Texas call center where standing desks were also used. Researchers in the study found that not only were those employees who used standing desks more productive, but they became increasingly more productive over time.

In the first month, the standing employees had a call rate that was 23% more successful than those who were seated, and by the sixth month the rate climbed to 53%.

As limited research exists on the health benefits of standing, it will be interesting to see the results of Jacksonville’s study and consider their implications for the growing number of workplace wellness initiatives which incorporate or promote standing desks.

New Ways to Encourage Employee Movement – Even at the Desk

We’ve all heard it before: “If you’re on a mat and you’re breathing, you’re doing yoga.” Well, what if you’re in your swivel chair, breathing, and at your desk at work? Can you still benefit from yoga?

As we have frequently reported, well-run workplace wellness programs make employee movement a key part of program design.

Often the benefits are physical. One study titled “Work-related correlates of occupational sitting in a diverse sample of employees in Midwest metropolitan cities” states:

“Sedentary behaviors are linked to adverse health outcomes such as chronic disease risk factors, the development of chronic diseases, and mortality, possibly independent from levels of physical activity. Sedentary behavior is distinct from physical inactivity. For example, prolonged sitting (i.e., occupational sitting, watching TV) may exist among people who are physically active by engaging in sufficient recreational activity. Therefore, reducing prolonged sitting time and interrupting sitting time by active breaks is recommended even for adults who meet the recommended level of physical activity.”

Regular movement during the day also brings emotional or mental health benefits. A report published in PLoS One titled “Happier People Live More Active Lives: Using Smartphones to Link Happiness and Physical Activity” found that “individuals who are more physically active are happier. Further, individuals are happier in the moments when they are more physically active.”

Now a 2017 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study titled “Prevalence of Mindfulness Practices in the US Workforce: National Health Interview Survey” provides additional insight into the ways that employees and employers are benefitting significantly from mindfulness practices before, during, or after their regular work schedule.

By pooling the responses from over 85,000 adults who engaged in yoga, meditation, tai chi, qigong over at least a 12-month period, the CDC found that mindfulness practices addresses critical “workplace wellness needs.”

It was also reported that, “Approximately 1 in 7 workers report engagement in some form of mindfulness-based activity, and these individuals can bring awareness of the benefit of such practices into the workplace.”

But how can employees who spend most of their day in a chair gain the benefits from yoga?

Kristin McGee, New York City yoga instructor and author of Chair Yoga, has been on a mission choose the positions that are most beneficial to Americans living sedentary lifestyles at home or at work. Her book identifies the best positions, for each body part, and explains the way that the given position can be done at work – even on the morning and afternoon commute.

As she explains, “the art of yoga is being able to be present anywhere and tap into your vital life force to keep your body flexible, strong, and healthy.”

McGee outlines the importance of specific positions for the everyday worker. Side bends, she notes, will relieve back stiffness and pain.

“Other work-friendly yoga poses include spinal twists, (which can be done seated or standing) eagle arms (great for stretching out wrists and shoulders), and mountain pose (for resetting your posture, boosting energy, and improving focus).”

So, while management is looking at ways to turn that wreck room into a yoga studio and carve a mandatory 30-minute workout block for you and your colleagues, you have your yoga mat, your breath, your desk, and your Chair Yoga.

Smart Desks Keep You Moving

The New York Times reports that a “new batch of so-called smart desks can monitor your movements, track your calories and even nudge you to stand up at various intervals throughout the day without interruption or loss of concentration.”

“The reason to buy a smart desk is because you, like most Americans, discover you are sitting your life away. Sitting for more than three hours a day can shave our life expectancy by two years — even if we exercise regularly.”

“One solution is to get up and move several times a day, and that’s where a standing desk comes in. But shop wisely. About 70 percent of people who buy a traditional sit-stand desk don’t move it out of the sitting position after the novelty wears off, typically in a few weeks, according to industry research. I learned that I was far more likely to take advantage of the standing feature if the desk automatically made me do it. (No manual hand crank for me.)”

“While I preferred the sit-stand models over the treadmill model, I also learned the hard way that a desk sitter can’t be transformed into a stander overnight. It’s a rookie mistake to stand for hours at a time when you get your first sit-stand desk, and if you overdo it, you may end up like me, slumped in a chair at day’s end nursing sore feet, a strained back and aching joints. Experts recommend that those new to a sit-stand desk start by standing just five to 20 minutes each hour and working up from there.”

“Ultimately, choosing a standing desk is no different from picking any large furnishing, with budget and space the main considerations. But you should also consider that, as with any piece of furniture, you could have it for life — which may be a little longer now that you are not sitting all day.”

Sitting Is as Bad for You as Smoking

Dr. Michael Jensen, from the Mayo Clinic, told KDKA Radio that the average worker “spends over five hours and 40 minutes sitting at their job every day and a new study says it’s bad for your health, with some claiming the long-term effects of sitting can be as bad as smoking.”

To find out whether the test subjects in the study were sitting or not, Dr. Jensen says one of his colleagues, Dr. James Levine, invented underwear that can “tell whether you’re sitting, standing, or lying down essentially every half second of the day.”

With the data they gathered and studied, they came to the conclusion that people need to move around more. Dr. Jensen says they found, “that people who are overweight tend to spend a lot more time sitting then people who have not gained weight.”

Interestingly, a trip to the gym for 30 minutes or an hour may not be enough to combat all the time spent sitting. According to Dr. Jensen, “sitting is independently associated with greater risk of dying of heart disease [and] diabetes, even when you try to account for exercise.”

Runner’s World: “There’s no running away from it: The more you sit, the poorer your health and the earlier you may die, no matter how fit you are.”

Planned Disruptions May Reduce Workplace Sitting Time

An intervention to disrupt prolonged sitting time seems to result in less sitting in the workplace, according to a study published online May 1 in the U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention’s Preventing Chronic Disease.

From HealthDay News:

“The researchers found that there were significant reductions in both groups in the number and duration of sitting bouts. Significant reductions were seen in the Stand group for total sitting time (6.6 percent), duration of the longest sitting bout (29 percent), and the number of sitting bouts lasting 30 minutes or longer (13 percent), while increases were seen in the number of sit-to-stand transitions (15 percent) and standing time (23 percent). Significant increases in stepping time occurred in the Stand and Step groups (14 and 39 percent, respectively), but only the Step group had a significant increase in the number of steps per workday (35 percent). There were no significant differences in changes from baseline to intervention between the groups.”