The evils of too much sitting include body aches, pains and fatigue, but a new study suggests that 30-minute stints of standing at work may relieve aching backs without harming productivity.
The researchers set out to study various effects on health – including joint and muscle pain – and on workers’ focus and productivity of taking standing “breaks” during the day.
For the study, 17 men and six women were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Everyone used an electric adjustable-height workstation, but one group sat while working over the course of an eight-hour day and the other alternated every 30 minutes between sitting and standing.
The workers did this for five days, then during a second five-day work week, the groups switched roles.
On day five of each work week, everyone filled out questionnaires measuring their fatigue levels, musculoskeletal discomfort, feelings about their own productivity and how well they liked the adjustable workstation.
People had an average fatigue score of 52.7 when they sit-stood while working, compared to 67.8 when they sat all day. A score of 66 or more was considered an “elevated level” of fatigue compared to what a healthy person would feel.
People in the sit-stand group also had 32 percent fewer musculoskeletal symptoms in the lower back and 14 percent fewer in their ankles and feet compared to when they sat all day.
Workers reported better focus and concentration while seated, although work productivity did not differ significantly between the two study groups. There was also a trend toward better productivity and less impatience and irritability in the sit-stand group, the researchers said.
The workstation was also much more pleasant overall for the sit-stand groups, who rated their enjoyment of it at 81 out of 100, versus a score of 64 for the sitting-only groups.
“Given that we observed a significant reduction in fatigue levels over five consecutive days, it is possible that over a longer period of time this would have translated into a significant improvement in productivity,” she said.
Dorothy Dunlop, a professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said the study was a “wake-up call” about the importance of physical activity for health, though too small to gauge productivity or concentration.
“I think the evidence we’re starting to accumulate shows standing is more beneficial than sitting and moving is more beneficial than standing,” said Dunlop. “We want people to get up and move.”
To get moving in an office job, Dunlop suggested also walking over to talk to colleagues rather than emailing, taking stairs instead of elevators or standing during a phone call or meeting.
Another small study of the psychology of work environments recently found that productivity may be enhanced in meetings where everyone is standing (see Reuters Health story of June 20, 2014, here: http://reut.rs/1m5u0Sh).
Dunlop noted, however, that more work was needed before a policy change on continuous sitting in office jobs.
In general, though, Thorp said office workers should take an exercise cue from the study, but cautioned against standing for more than an hour, which can also cause fatigue and musculoskeletal problems. She added that she hoped the study would help lead to public policy changes in Australia that reduce workplace sedentary time.
“The message for sedentary workers should be to alternate regularly between sitting and standing across the work day for health,” Thorp said.
I routinely give patients advice on how to decrease stress to the musculoskeletal system. Changing work positions such as this study noted is one of them. Call today if you want to learn how to minimize stress and strain to your body!