We all know that sitting for hours behind your desk is detrimental to health, and experts have long been urging people to stand up and take regular breaks. One of the most popular equipment to hit the market for reducing prolonged sitting among office workers is the sit-stand desk. You’ve probably advised a company on purchasing a sit-stand desk before.

Equipment consultation is one of the services that we can offer to our clients, and the advice that you offer can be very important. This is why as Ergonomics Professionals, it’s crucial to have a better understanding of its proper usage, so it’s worthwhile to consider research into how we go about recommending this equipment. I put together some of the latest sit-stand desk research to give you insights on how to optimally use them so that your client can maximize its benefits while minimizing the risks.

Here’s What You Need to Learn From the Latest Findings about Standing Desks:

You’ve probably heard of the slogan “sitting is the new smoking,” which acknowledges that prolonged sedentary behaviors at work are bad for your health. This is because people who spend long periods sitting every day are at a higher risk for adverse health outcomes, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, this is a major problem for many office employees. On average, they spend 54% of their work time sitting. Due to the negative health outcomes surrounding sedentary behavior, some office workers have started using a sit-stand desk, which gives them the ability to switch between sitting to standing postures. 

1. A cheap way to sit-stand

Budgets and automated sit-stand desks don't always go well together. Although I’ve noticed that the prices for sit-stand units have come down recently, these products can still cost at least $400-$500 (upwards of $1,200) to purchase, which can be a bit out of the budget for many people. But from my experience, there are cost-effective ways to sit-stand without the hefty price tag. 

For instance, in a recently published study (1), researchers attempted to provide a cost-effective solution to reduce sitting during the workday with some success! In this study, 48 office employees were provided with low-cost cardboard standing desks ($20) and simple behavior change strategies to break up sitting time.  Here’s what they found regarding the effectiveness of using a  low-cost cardboard standing desk:

  • A reduction in sitting time of approximately 42 minutes in the intervention group at 3 months is comparable to findings from studies using more expensive alternatives. 
  • Low-cost standing desks were effective in reducing occupational sitting time, but not the number of prolonged sitting bouts. 
  • There’s some potential for low-cost standing desk converters as a scalable workplace health intervention.

These are actually very interesting results. I believe that many ergonomic solutions don’t need to be costly to be successful at reducing ergonomic risk. A case in point: You can use the old textbooks that are just collecting dust in your client's workspace to raise their workstation from sitting to standing. Of course, this means you’ll need to raise their monitor, keyboard, and mouse. I’ve tried this solution many times before. I know it’s not the most visually appealing, but it’s an effective ergonomic solution (when properly set up).

2. Heart rate Sit-Stand Desks?

Another reason for the boom in popularity of Sit-Stand Desks (SSD) has been connected to the guarantee of improved cardiovascular health-related to reducing sitting time. But is there really a benefit to our client's heart health after they start using sit-stand desks? According to this cross-sectional study (2), different tasks stimulate the cardiac autonomic nervous system in different ways, which could bring positive effects to the cardiovascular system. The latest research on the contributions of sit-stand desks to overall health is still limited. With more research on how to properly use the desks, however, I think we’ll see more benefits, especially as people receive more training on how to use it for their personal benefit.

3. An effective way to improve compliance

Training on how to use sit-stand workstations is key to get positive results. Unfortunately, there’s a lack of established guidelines about the best ways to use a standing desk. Proper usage of SSD will probably differ depending on what health issues you have. What I can suggest so that your clients can get the most from their sit-stand desk is to incorporate a standing schedule. It’s important to try to alternate between sitting and standing positions. It can be anywhere from a 1:1 (sitting: standing), 2:1, and 3:1 ratio. The most popular one is the 1:1 ratio, meaning that if you are standing for 1 hour, you must also sit for one hour. This new study (3) demonstrates the importance of ongoing support and training to ensure the long-term utilization of sit-stand workstations. So whatever sitting: standing ratio you recommend your client, make sure that they comply with the schedule. 

4. Train away the pain

"Not sitting" doesn’t just mean standing. Another thing that I can suggest is to recommend taking active breaks. Encourage your clients to use this time effectively by getting a drink or walking to a colleague’s desk instead of sending an email. In fact, this study (4) demonstrates that a sit-stand-walk (SSW) intervention is a beneficial and viable alternative to sedentary office work. Here’s what the findings of the study say:

  • For an SSW intervention, musculoskeletal discomfort was significantly less compared to sitting or standing for the hour.
  • Perceived physical fatigue was significantly less compared to standing for the hour. 

Additionally, despite the popularity of SSD, there are people who are standing-intolerant due to low back pain (LBP). Although standing-induced back pain can be hard to remedy when triggered, participants in this field-based study (5) reported improvements in standing tolerance. The findings of the study suggest that using a sit-stand desk for 12 weeks resulted in decreased LBP and sitting time in standing-intolerant people. 

Keep Up-to-date With the Research

So what’s my takeaway from these articles? Sit-stand desks offer a lot of potential IF you go about the right way. There’s still a lot to learn about SSD, but science is catching up. Staying on top of all the research is key to staying competent and being a great resource for your clients! As I end this post, are there any research insights that have changed what you think about sit-stand desks? 

Lastly, I want to announce that I'm going to be opening an enrollment for my program Accelerate at the end of September 2021. There are a lot of benefits to being a member. You’ll discover up-to-date and useful ergo equipment every month so you can offer your clients the best solution. You also have access to monthly curated literature reviews about ergonomics and modern marketing techniques. This saves you time and money to constantly search the internet and find peer-reviewed research. So if you’re interested, sign up to the waitlist here.

1. sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0003687019301693?via%3Dihub
2. tandfonline.com/doi/figure/10.1080/00140139.2020.1830184?scroll=top&needAccess=true
3. tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00140139.2020.1859138?journalCode=terg20
4. sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0003687018307221?via%3Dihub
5. tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00140139.2020.1761034?journalCode=terg20

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