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If you’ve ever come to this blog before, you know I LOVE to write about standing desks, especially when there’ s interesting research on the topic. In this post I reviewed this recent article. Now, my preference is to use an automated sit-to-stand desk (I’m writing this post from one now!) as it gives quick adjustability that’s simple and accurate. The key thing is that standing desks offer a lot of potential IF you go about the right way. In this post I’m going to share a surprising consideration when looking at prolonged standing in the office. 

Interested in more about standing desks? Here’s some of my favourite posts that I’ve written:

I’ve even developed a standing desk challenge as way to show how to safely incorporate more standing into your day no matter if you have a standing desk or not (ie: you can ‘mock’ up your own).

You can join below.

See for YOURSELF if standing while you work would benefit you.

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New Insights about Standing in the Office.

So the key thing (other than the correct set-up of your workstation, of course), is the amount of time you spend standing and the affect that it has on your body versus your mind:

Although prolonged standing increases discomfort in all body areas, it can improve creative problem solving.

If you’ve ever used a standing desk you can probably agree with the above statement. Personally, I’ve seen bursts of inspiration in my work when I’ve switched from sitting to standing, while at the same time I’m very aware of my time spent standing and any warning signs to discomfort that might begin to let me know that I should be switching to seated work. 

For many of us, this surge of creativity make standing desks seem like they’re ‘all that and a bag of chips‘. But like any good thing, standing desks come with limits that we must work within in order to get the intended results (and yes, I’m going to continue my food analogy here):

Using a standing desk is like going to an ‘all you can eat’ buffet – without a game-plan of when to stop going back for seconds (thirds, or fourths…) you’ll likely end up with a stomach ache.

Similarly, overindulging with a standing desk can lead to entire body fatigue, blood pooling in the lower legs, and even whole body discomfort. We really can have ‘too much of a good thing’. The phrase of ‘everything in moderation’ is an excellent way to explain why there’s good reason to limit prolonged standing.  

So, back to what the new research tells us about standing desks.

In this study, they found the following about prolonged standing:

  • Discomfort increased in all body areas including the arms (which the authors noted as surprising), but especially the lower back (not surprising).
  • However, sustained attention reaction time deteriorated throughout the trial.
  • Whereas, creative problem solving improved.

Perceived mental state was found to deteriorate and to be moderately correlated with body discomfort. So, what this research advises is to add any sort of movement while standing to avoid both negative outcomes. That’s something that makes total sense and I’ve even seen some products on the market that try to ‘recreate’ movement – such as anti-fatigue mats and wobble boards. Although these products have the right intention with reducing the amount of time statically standing, they may not be able to really recreate everything involved with actual activity (like going for a walk). Nevertheless this is an important finding to share with those who rely on a standing desk for work. 

But here’s the thing.

And as cliche as it is, when it comes down to pro-health behaviours, ‘the best posture is certainly the next posture’ – as long as you stay within ergonomic criteria (see below) that is. This research corroborates this claim that more static postures result in higher discomfort when compared to more dynamic postures.  Some people might not even realize they are doing slight movements (like fidgeting or swaying) when they are standing – they may do so passively to manage discomfort as these researchers found.

Here are 4 guidelines that everyone who uses a standing desk needs to know:

  • Start gradually. Just like anything else in life if you do too much standing too soon you will likely burn yourself out, get sore, and overall feel discouraged. Even worse would be getting injured. It can take just 30 minutes of standing for indicators of leg risk to be present. We don’t want that. Start slow and gradually work yourself up to longer standing durations, within the recommended guidelines.
  • Use ‘active’ breaks. Active breaks (like going for a quick walk) have been found to be far more beneficial than just sitting alone when it comes taking a ‘standing’ break. Making a ‘break’ plan on when you’ll be doing seated work and using a more ‘active’ break is a really useful strategy, especially if you are just starting out.
  • Limit standing time. Is there a ‘cut-off’ for a safe standing duration? Yes, according to research. The best strategy on the market today for optimal standing time is with the Prolonged Standing Strain Index. It classifies standing risk exposure into one of three categories (see graphic below):

The ‘Safe’ Category (lowest ergonomic risk): Standing continuously for less than 1 hour AND for a maximum of 4 hours total throughout the day.

The ‘Slightly Unsafe’ Category (moderate ergonomic risk): Standing continuously for more than 1 hour OR more than 4 hours total throughout the day.

The ‘Unsafe’ Category (highest ergonomic risk): Standing continuously for more than 1 hour AND more than 4 hours total throughout the day.

  • Incorporate a standing schedule. Anywhere from a 1:1 (sitting:standing), 2:1, and 3:1 ratios are all recommended by research. The most popular tends to be a 1:1 ratio, meaning that if you are standing for 1 hour you must also sit for one hour. Whatever sitting:standing ratio works for you, ensure that you don’t surpass the recommended daily amounts of standing time (in the graphic below).

To Conclude

The value of this post is taking a bigger picture or more ‘holistic’ view of ergonomics in the office. In my experience, standing desks are NOT the silver bullets for the majority of office workers. Why? Although the product is sound, it may take some of us a lot of time to habitualize standing more often at work. Generally speaking, people show poor compliance in using the standing function of sit-stand desks in the long-term.

But I digress.

I hope these research insights makes your standing experience so So what do you think? Have you ever noticed that long-term standing desk users tend to fidget or sway more in their workday? Have you noticed the surge of creativity when you use a standing desk? Leave a comment below if you find this information about ‘static’ standing useful to you, your workstation, or during your assessments!

One Last Thing… 

If you liked this post, please share! It helps to get the word out!! If you are interested in more ergonomics info there quick & handy FREE Checklist that outlines the simple tactics that can Jump-Start ergonomics whether you are an HR manager or if you are only interested in your OWN workstation! You can download it here.

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