In my last post, 'Sitting is the new smoking', we established that movement should be an essential part of your daily work routine, and that sitting is now widely regarded as one of the seven deadly sins when it comes to your health.
Now let's have a look at a way we can avoid sitting while still managing to work. Standing has become an increasingly popular trend in working practices over the last few years. There has been a lot of discussion around the topic on various editors' blogs, Facebook pages and the Society for Editors and Proofreaders members' forums over the past few weeks. However, I think we can bear another post on standing at work, as it is an important issue and worth thinking carefully about.
Before we delve into specifics, are there any benefits to standing over sitting? Surely we’re just as stuck, but in a vertical position?
Here are the main positives:
- sitting switches off the circulation of lipase, a fat-absorbing enzyme, but standing triggers it (hurray!)
- standing improves circulation throughout the body, including the brain, improving concentration and clear thinking (helping you spot that italic comma!)
- we move more when we stand. This stops the joints and muscles from getting stiff, and engages all those core muscles you don’t think about. This movement burns more calories.(double hurray!) but does not therefore give you permission to eat more chocolate (boo!)
So there are definite physiological benefits to getting up off your chair, but how should you put this into practice?
Some people are positively evangelical about standing desks. There's no doubt that they can be considered ’a good thing’ based on the above points and the mere fact that, by standing, you are not sitting. However, approach with caution. This very honest blog details one man’s efforts to get along with his standing desk (although I'm not so keen on his sitting posture further down his page). For a more recent (and light-hearted) report of one man's attempt at standing at work, see Stuart Heritage's article in The Guardian. To be fair, I don't think he really gave it a chance!
So with that in mind, there are a few things you should consider if you do decide to try a standing desk:
1. Experiment with a temporary set-up before investing too much time and money, Use shelving or boxes to raise your desk height to one that suits you when standing - it should be level with, or slightly below, your forearms when your elbows are bent to 90 degrees. If it's too high your shoulders will be raised, leading to increased tension in your upper back and neck muscles, which can cause neck and shoulder pain and headaches. The same points we consider for our desk set-up when sitting also apply when standing - make sure the screen and keyboard are both in the correct position or you will strain your neck muscles.
2. Start gradually. Just as you wouldn't step out your front door and try to run a marathon (unless you're this guy), so you shouldn't attempt to switch over to standing for several hours at a time without building up to it.
3. Expect it to hurt a bit initially. You are asking your body to do something new, and it will take time to feel comfortable with it. Remember the day after your first Zumba class? Same thing. Sore feet, aching calves and knees, and twinges in the back and neck can all result from even a modest increase in the time you spend standing.
4. Look after your feet. Use an anti-fatigue gel standing mat for comfort and support. Here is one example. There are plenty of options online (but some are a bit, erm, industrial in style!). Devotees of the standing desk agree that this is probably the most important accessory you should have.
5. A small footrest can be helpful to vary your position while standing - raising the position of one foot can reduce strain on the lumbar spine.
6. Your posture is every bit as important when you're standing as it is when you're sitting. Avoid taking too much weight on one leg, throwing your hip out to the side and 'hanging' there, and either slouching or hyperextending your lumbar spine. Learn to engage your core muscles to support your lumbar spine and you will notice a marked improvement in your standing posture.
7. Consider a compromise. It may be impractical for you to switch entirely to a standing desk set-up, and you may not have the luxury of enough space to have both seated and standing options in your office. Adjustable desks which can easily be raised or lowered as you prefer during your workday (using either a hand crank or an electric system) can be expensive. So perhaps a standing desk which also has a high seat for when you'd like to rest your legs is an answer you could consider. Again, try it first. Use a raised breakfast bar style seat with your temporary set-up to see whether it's something you would want to work with.
8. How long is too long? There is no hard-and-fast figure for how long we should aim to stand each day. This is as individual as you are, and it isn't a competition! I would suggest starting with short sessions of 30 minutes or so to test the water, and gradually build up from there to what is comfortable for you. If you can manage to stand for your entire working day then good for you, but for many people that won't be achievable (or desirable).
Remember, the point of standing is to reduce your sitting time to improve your health, so even short periods during the day will be of benefit to you.
I think it's clear that incorporating standing into our working day has many positives, so why not try it? Just bear in mind the suggestions I've made, and be body aware.
In my next post, I'll look at three stretches we should be doing at work, whether we're sitting or standing, and why we should be doing them. Thanks for reading, speak to you soon!
Have you tried a standing desk? I'm curious to know how editors and proofreaders in particular fare with this, so I'd love it if you could take the time to share your experiences with me in the comments below.
Disclaimer: this blog is for general information only, and should not be regarded as specific advice. If you are pregnant, significantly overweight or suffer from a physical condition that may be aggravated by standing, please consult your doctor, physiotherapist or other health care professional for specific advice tailored to your individual needs.