Should we really be telling people to stand more?

At the end of the recent Health & Wellbeing at Work conference in Birmingham (England), there was an animated debate about whether or not standing improves the wellbeing and productivity of workers. Votes were taken at the start and finish of the discussion. Interestingly, by the end of the debate, those who believed this to be the case decreased and the abstentions more than doubled!

In view of all the recent publicity about the perils of prolonged sitting, this outcome might seem anomalous. After all, the participants were nearly all ergonomists, physiotherapists, health & safety and occupational health professionals. Surely all the evidence means we should stand more?

Wrong!

All the evidence suggests we should sit less. And that is not the same thing at all.

sit-stand-exampleJust replacing static sitting postures with static standing postures is not the answer. There is a much bigger picture to be addressed. As a vendor of sit-stand desks for nearly 20 years, I am delighted that there is much more interest in such products. They offer both the musculoskeletal benefits we have been propounding and, as recent evidence now suggests, cardiovascular benefits too. However, their implementation will only be effective as an integral part of a broader initiative to encourage less sitting and more movement.

walking_meetingMore walking meetings, taking and making telephone calls on the move, locating printers and water coolers away from desks, drinking lots of water (to create natural breaks) and many other simple, effective (and often free) techniques can be applied to the workplace to increase movement and reduce cardiovascular risks. However, these ideas also involve behaviour change and this is the crucial issue.

Those organisations that simply install lots of sit-stand desks will find, in quite a short time, that they have achieved little. It is likely that users will soon revert to entirely seated behaviours and quite possible that many will never even attempt standing work at all. Without proper guidance, those who do try standing may find that it simply does not suit them. Even with appropriate footwear (a factor which is often ignored), standing workers may be susceptible to varicose veins, flat feet, corns, bunions and an array of other conditions. Done to excess, too much standing can be bad for you too!

In the United States, confusion is increased by references to ‘standing desks’, leading individuals to believe they should stand all the time. In Europe, the more common term is ‘sit-stand’ which at least implies in the name that the two activities should be mixed. But they should also be mixed with movement. Referring to available information about sedentary behaviour, one of the speakers in Birmingham, stated that more research is needed but the current ‘picture is grey’. Actually, it is many shades of grey.

problems_at_workThe binary sit-or-stand approach will not work. Employers implementing sit-stand without applying a holistic approach to ways of working will not only be wasting their money but worse, may simply be replacing one set of problems with another set.

9 Responses to Should we really be telling people to stand more?

  1. […] you have given proper thought to the Less Sitting issue, we can help you with the right training and products! The latest addition to our furniture […]

  2. […] standing ratio. Furthermore, much of the noise completely omits any reference to the need to replace sitting with a variety of activities, not just standing. A lot of apparently validated material is, in reality, a thinly veiled effort […]

  3. […] As discussions rumble on about excessive sedentary behaviour, there is a growing understanding that the essential message is to sit less rather than stand more. Our recent webinars were well received and provided a mix of historical context, current perceptions and suggested actions. A recording is available here or you can access more information from my blog. […]

  4. Nicola Carroll. says:

    Could not make Birmingham this year so missed this. Should we be pushing the message “Sit a bit, Stand some and move about more” as a balanced work pattern?

    • Guy Osmond says:

      Broadly speaking, ‘sit a bit, stand some and move about more’ is sound advice but it will, inevitably beg the question ‘”What do you mean by ‘a bit’, ‘some’ and ‘more’?”. I keep seeing online questions and hearing conference requests for an indication of how much time we should spend at each activity. Researchers say ‘more research is needed’ (but that’s what researchers always say!). Amongst practitioners, I have heard everything from 10% standing to half & half sitting/standing. And this ignores the crucial issue of more movement. The much bigger problem to address will be behaviour change. On a train, people tend to stand only if they have no choice. Even in seminars and discussions on this topic, I observe plenty of people sitting. I think the pragmatic approach is to just encourage people to get up and move as much as possible. My blog mentions simple things like moving printers away from users and having walking meetings and, from anecdotal feedback, it certainly seems that the use of some sort of pedometer/smart watch/activity tracker device is really effective. Maybe when Apple marketing has convinced us that we all need their Watch, we can stop worrying about it and just count on a Pavlovian response to a buzzing/tapping/vibrating device on our wrist!

  5. james robertson says:

    Restless is movement and movement creates endorphins, sends afferent sensory signals that operate the gate and both these reduce pain and the causes of pain. Sit for 25 mins and you lose 25 mins of your life, so it really is ( if you believes peer reviewed stuff) true that it is indeed a case of the quick (to move and change postures) or the dead.

  6. Hello Guy. Congratulations, and thank you for bringing the “debate” of sit or stand into perspective. It was that session, (of all those scheduled at the Health and Wellbeing at Work event), that moved me to travel from the US to Birmingham; I wanted to correct the notion that one must choose between sitting and standing. Those of us who are dedicated to bringing healthy solutions to our customers are also responsible for educating them with clarity. Confusing the issue with this sort of debate may have drawn attention but it did so at the risk of leaving people with the wrong idea entirely. Another reason manufacturers and vendors have an important role to play in the wellness sphere.

  7. […] At the end of the recent Health & Wellbeing at Work conference in Birmingham, there was an animated debate about whether or not standing improves the wellbeing and productivity of workers. Votes were taken at the start and finish of the discussion. Interestingly, by the end of the debate, those who believed this to be the case decreased and the abstentions more than doubled! In view of all the recent publicity about the perils of prolonged sitting, this outcome might seem anomalous. [more] […]

  8. Robin Ellis says:

    Excellent summary of the issue. The Sit v Stand debate in Birmingham was very interesting. I went into the debate thinking neither is optimum instead a variety is ideal. So its not really sit v stand, its sit v stand v sit-stand and of these sit-stand is the clear winner. But like you say the issue of movement must not be ignored, people shouldn’t just sit for a while then stand for a while, they should go for short walks during their working day.

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