Anyone who works in an office will know that tight-shouldered, achey back feeling you get from sitting at a desk all day. But tell your boss, the answer to happier and healthier employees could be as simple as changing desk.
New research suggests “sit-stand workstations” that allow employees to stand, as well as sit, while working on a computer reduce daily sitting time, have a positive impact on job performance and may even boost psychological health.
The results, published in the British Medical Journal, show that employees who used the workstations for 12 months, on average, reduced their sitting time by more than an hour a day, with potentially meaningful benefits.
High levels of sedentary behaviour such as sitting have previously been associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers, as well as early death.
Office workers are one of the most sedentary populations, spending 70-85% of time at work sitting, according to the study.
So a team of researchers based in the UK, with collaborators in Australia, set out to evaluate the impact of Stand More At Work – an intervention designed to reduce sitting time at work.
The trial involved 146 office workers based at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust of whom 77 were randomly assigned to the intervention group and 69 to the control group over a 12 month period.
The intervention group were given a height adjustable workstation, plus starting instructions and ongoing coaching sessions to encourage use of the standing desk. The control group carried on working as usual.
Workers’ sitting time was measured using a device worn on the thigh at the start of the study and at three, six, and 12 months. Daily physical activity levels and questions about work (eg. job performance, engagement) and health (eg. mood, quality of life) were also recorded.
At the start of the study, overall sitting time was 9.7 hours per day. The results show that sitting time was lower by 50.62 minutes per day at 3 months, 64.40 minutes per day at six months, and 82.39 minutes per day at 12 months in the intervention group compared with the control group.
The reduction in sitting was largely replaced by time spent standing rather than moving, as stepping time and physical activity remained unchanged.
The survey results also suggest improvements in job performance, work engagement, occupational fatigue, daily anxiety and quality of life, but no notable changes were found for job satisfaction, cognitive function, and sickness absence.
The authors acknowledged that self-reported work-related outcomes may have affected the results and said more research should assess the longer term health benefits of switching sitting for standing and how best to promote movement rather than just standing while at work.