Technology is evolving every day, and seemingly at an ever-quickening pace; to the point we have fewer reasons to stand up and move. Phones functioning as computers fit right in our pockets, online retail has become the norm, and meetings, doctors visits and "face-to-face" conversations can now be undertaken via computer.
The good news, however, is that the negative health implications of this sedentary lifestyle are being combated just as rapidly — particularly by employers.
“I think 10, 11 years ago, the thought was I would go to the gym, and if I do that then I’m healthy,” says Kevin Downey, commercial account manager for G&G Fitness. “You still need to do that, but what are you doing the rest of the 23 hours of the day? Are you getting enough rest? Are you eating well? During the work day, are you sitting for eight hours?”
As Downey explains, one of the most popular trends in combating a sedentary work environment is the standing workstation, which allow employees the versatility to go from sitting to standing in seconds. These standing workstations are not only becoming popular in corporate offices, but also in schools across the nation, including at Williamson Central School District.
Brenda Gowan, senior payroll and benefits clerk at Williamson Central School District, requested a standing workstation five years ago. The district was happy to provide it, especially considering that Gowan has an injured disc in her back.
“I love it,” says Gowan, who is also the wellness co-coordinator for the district. “The girls in the office say they can’t believe I stand as long as I do, but it makes my back feel so much better.”
Gowan says she now stands for roughly 80 percent of her workday.
“It’s amazing, the difference,” she says.
Lori VanAcker, clerk at Williamson Central High School, was in the same position as Gowan. Before receiving her standing workstation last September, VanAcker says she was experiencing back and neck issues. As the standing workstations continued to grow in popularity in the district, several of her coworkers recommended that VanAcker give one a try.
“You don’t slouch, and you don’t crank your neck as bad,” VanAcker says. “You can put it where you want it so you’re looking straight at your computer screen.”
Not only are these workstations becoming more popular for faculty members at Williamson Central — students have begun takig advantage of them as well. Kelly Dixon, guidance office secretary at Williamson Central Middle School, says there are about 20 standing workstations in the building, some of which are used by students.
“We have started ordering them for classrooms for students, because some students that do have ADHD need to be able to move around a little bit, and it seems to have really worked for them,” Dixon says. “That way, they’re not distracting others by moving around in their seat too much. They’re standing up, and some of the teachers are using them to collaborate with students on work.”
The Science of Standing
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a prolonged period of sitting can result in premature mortality as well as chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. There are also increased risks for metabolic syndrome and obesity.
However, breaking up this prolonged sitting has been correlated with numerous health benefits. A study by the CDC suggests breaks in sedentary activity could explain lower health risks related to waist circumference, body mass index, triglyceride levels and two-hour plasma glucose levels.
Citing the Take-A-Stand Project, which studied the effects of a sit-stand device by reducing a worker’s time spent sitting by sixty-six minutes per day, the study found that 54 percent of participants had reduced upper back and neck pain as well as an improved mood. The study also found the removal of the sit-stand device “largely negated” all observed improvements within two weeks.
A Culture of Wellness
While the popularity of standing workstations has grown, Downey says it goes beyond just being able to stand at work. It’s also about the increase in awareness for office wellness and wellness in general.
“At the end of the day, in my personal experience, any time I change that desk, if my neck isn’t sore, then that’s a good thing,” Downey says. “I feel that I’m more productive when I change my positions because I don’t get stagnant.”
Gowan, Dixon and VanAcker have similar experiences in using their standing workstations. All three say they find that they’re more productive, have more energy and have successfully combated any nagging back or neck problems.
“I have more energy because I am standing, and if I do have to make a copy, it’s not a big deal,” VanAcker says. “I just find that I get things done more efficiently because I do something when it needs to be done instead of saying, ‘I’ll wait.’”
“I’ve even noticed it this past week,” Dixon adds. “I have my desk raised, and I feel like I flow through things a little faster, whereas if I’m sitting, I may find distractions or something else going on.”