Is Sitting the New Smoking?

I think we’ve all been there- it’s 9:30am, and we’re stunned out of a daydream, or even vegetative state in front of a 8-5 roost. Is there a better way to approach workstation life, or much ‘ado about nothing?  

Over the past 15 years we’ve witnessed larger corporations overhaul their work environments in the name of health and dynamic thinking. Think of “GooglePlex,” home to a fleet of bicycles as well as quirky slides for employees. These kinds of changes have inspired all sorts of research targeting sitting in the workplace and its impact on physical and mental wellness. So what’s the deal?

What’s The deal?

RESEARCH “SAYS”

Researchers are working towards establishing direct connections between time spent standing through the work day and metrics like body mass index, self-reported quality of life, even medial temporal lobe thickness (translation: brain’s immediate short term memory powerhouse.) The hard evidence offers some promise for taking the workstation upstairs, with a few caveats: the benefits have proven very subtle thus far based on the quantifiable data. For example, “resting” energy expenditure, or the calories burned while “hanging out” is only marginally better standing vs. sitting.  

Standing workstation manufacturers have been quick to manipulate the evidence in favor of a standing, even walking, workday, however some of those direct correlations don’t yet exist. Several confounders, including an employee’s personal and mental health baseline, exercise level outside of work, and diet might continue to confound the evidence until these factors are discriminated under a better lens. Rehab professionals often advocate standing desks for adults who have specific spinal dysfunctions / surgeries, neurovascular compromise, or even pregnancy. It’s even fabled that Marie Antoinette used a standing desk through her pregnancy! 

give it a go

So, how does this stack up for us in the meantime? It goes without saying that a standing workplace deserves a go, as long as the mods are reversible and the investment isn’t too much to digest. Even if your office doesn’t come with a standing workstation, there are several DIY options to try, many of which demand only $20-100 in common supplies. You might try a sawhorse design, or even opt to try a fixture like a box or sturdy table atop your ordinary sitting desk. Alternatively, adjustable (and even portable) standing desk options are becoming more affordable as we speak. Just make sure that your creation meets some vital ergonomic specs (see the image included 😉 ) and your imagination is the limit! You might also try a standing, or even a walking meeting to kick your groupthink up a notch. At any rate, don’t hesitate to consult a physical or occupational therapist if you have any pressing musculoskeletal concerns that might demand a little ergo TLC. Happy crafting! 

Written by:

Lindsay Skinner
PT, DPT, SCS

Written by:

Lindsay Skinner
PT, DPT, SCS