The evils of too much sitting include body aches, pains and fatigue, but a new study suggests that 30-minute stints of standing at work may relieve aching backs without harming productivity.
Australian office workers alternated between sitting and standing every 30 minutes for a week and felt less fatigued and less back pain and lower-leg pain than when they stayed seated the whole day.
“Our results confirm what we expected – that introducing regular breaks across the workday leads to improvements in fatigue and musculoskeletal symptoms compared to sitting all day,” said Alica A. Thorp, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, who led the study.
Prolonged sitting has been linked with a variety of health problems, but office workers often have little choice about their work environment. Past research has found office workers spend about 75 percent of their work day sitting in a chair, Thorp’s team writes in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
The researchers set out to study various effects on health – including joint and muscle pain – and on workers’ focus and productivity of taking standing “breaks” during the day. For the study, 17 men and six women were randomly assigned to one of two groups. Everyone used an electric adjustable-height workstation, but one group sat while working over the course of an eight-hour day and the other alternated every 30 minutes between sitting and standing. The workers did this for five days, then during a second five-day work week, the groups switched roles. The participants were mostly middle-aged, 15 were overweight and the rest were obese.
People in the sit-stand group, who adjusted the height of the table as they stood up to work, wore a physical activity monitor on their right thigh to gauge their sitting, standing and walking times. On day five of each work week, everyone filled out questionnaires measuring their fatigue levels, musculoskeletal discomfort, feelings about their own productivity and how well they liked the adjustable workstation.
People had an average fatigue score of 52.7 when they sit-stood while working, compared to 67.8 when they sat all day. A score of 66 or more was considered an “elevated level” of fatigue compared to what a healthy person would feel. People in the sit-stand group also had 32 percent fewer musculoskeletal symptoms in the lower back and 14 percent fewer in their ankles and feet compared to when they sat all day.
Workers reported better focus and concentration while seated, although work productivity did not differ significantly between the two study groups. There was also a trend toward better productivity and less impatience and irritability in the sit-stand group, the researchers said.
Source: www.reuters.com; Janice Neumann; September 12, 2014.