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University of Minnesota
November 27, 2012
Standing workstations can help people get out of their chairs and into circulation.
Sit-stand workstations may boost energy, health
Are people with desk jobs sitting ducks for health problems?
For Mark Pereira, evidence that moving frequently during the day promotes good health has made him an advocate for upgrading workplaces to encourage people to stand and move around more.
Pereira, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota, and several colleagues recently conducted a small pilot study to determine the feasibility of giving sit-stand workstations to office workers who now sit at a computer all day. The study was the brainchild and master's thesis of Nirjhar Dutta, Pereira's graduate student.
They followed a group of people who used sit-stand desks for a month and compared their experiences to a month at their regular desks.
During the experimental month, the volunteers not only spent a lot more of their workday on their feet, but—surprisingly—they reported being less hungry and ate about 200 calories less every day.
"That could be really interesting if it holds up," says Pereira. "By using the desks, people increased the time spent standing by a couple hours a day, and through measures of activity monitors on hips, we saw they were moving around the office more."
In other words, the act of standing up is a bottleneck, and a workplace where standing is the norm makes physical activity easier.
A young science
Numerous studies have shown that exercise, even in moderation, confers health benefits. Pereira's goal is to find the best ways to get people active enough to claim health benefits. But the science that would enable people to design the optimal mix of movement and inactivity is still young.
Physical inactivity/sedentary lifestyle (PISL), along with smoking and obesity, is one of three common factors associated with conditions like type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Pereira and colleagues have published evidence that all three factors pose health risks that are "independent and additive."
In the case of PISL, the disuse of muscles leads to weakening, while exercise helps lower blood pressure and after-meal blood glucose levels. Also, too much sitting can be bad for one's weight in the long run. But as to which of the three factors is the most damaging, Pereira says that while it might be scientifically interesting to compare PISL to smoking, "it's silly, because it's clear that you're better off with none of those things."
For the average-weight person, U.S. government guidelines recommend two and a half hours of moderate or greater intensity exercise per week, Pereira says. The exercise should be steady for at least 10 minutes at a time and should add up to at least half an hour a day, for five days a week. For example, three 10-minute walks at a regular steady pace of about 20 minutes per mile. For those who are obese or formerly obese and trying to keep the weight off, guidelines call for up to 90 minutes a day.
But does it matter whether the exercise is spread out or all in one burst?
"We don't know if the 30 minutes per day should be broken up or all at once," says Pereira. "More research is needed."
Try it—you'll like it
University employee Ashley Piediscalzi recently acquired a stand-up desk for her computer and now swears by it.
"I've felt more productive and energized. I'm certainly burning more calories," she says. And the soft rubber anti-fatigue mat she stands on is kind to her joints.
If you don't have a sit-stand desk, Pereira recommends:
• Take the stairs when possible
• Go to a coworker's desk instead of calling
• Stand and stretch every hour
"If [the sit-stand desk] works, we want to know if it can be integrated widely into employees' office settings," he says. "My research aims at getting people up and moving at work in ways that are feasible and not harmful to productivity."