We all spend a significant amount of our time in the workplace, and if we want a healthy life, it’s important the workplace is as comfortable and healthy as possible. Ergonomics is the practice of designing and arranging our work environment to minimize physical strain, prevent injuries and improve efficiency and productivity.
If you have a desk job one of the most effective tools to improve ergonomics in the workplace is a standing desk (also known as a sit stand desk), but not for the reason you’re thinking.
In this blog post, we'll explore the importance of proper ergonomics in the workplace, and how improving standing desk ergonomics can help to improve our health, productivity, and overall well-being. A workstation needs consideration from head to toe, from ergonomic chair to monitor, here we discuss desk optimization. From the science behind standing desks to tips for proper use, you'll learn how to make the most out of your standing desk.
The Science of Standing Desks
Health benefits when you use a standing desk
I’m going to make a bold statement: standing desks reduce risk of chronic diseases. This statement might seem grandiose, but it’s backed by solid evidence.
Study after study shows that sitting for prolonged periods has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and certain types of cancer1. These conditions are caused, in part, by the fact that when we sit, our metabolic system slows and our blood circulation is reduced in comparison to when we’re more active.
From a physiological perspective, when sitting for extended periods, our blood pools in areas where muscles are relaxed. Reduced blood flow can lead to diseases like deep vein thrombosis (blood clots)2. Lower metabolism is linked to weight gain and all of the f risks that accompany it.
On the other hand, standing up causes our muscles to contract, which in turn increases blood flow and circulation throughout the body. More movement and more blood flow means we increase our metabolism which burns more calories and helps us to maintain a healthy weight. For the same reason sit stand desks reduce our risk of chronic diseases.
The problem with poor ergonomics
We must consider how to set up our workstation ergonomically to get the most out of our sit stand desk. Although standing desks can help to improve posture by promoting an upright and neutral spinal alignment, this is only possible by reducing fatigue with proper use.
Good alignment is also possible when sitting. And yes, sitting is something the user of a standing desk is recommended to do (switching from standing to sitting and back to standing regularly).
When sitting for a long period of time we fatigue and tend to slouch or hunch forward, putting strain on the back and neck. Our tired, disengaged muscles cause us to shift weight onto the desk, arm rest and to the side.
If our back is bent asymmetrically and uneven weight on our hips or even arms leads to muscle strain. Over days, months and years this strain adds up and can contribute to pain and musculoskeletal injuries.
Does a sit stand desk mean proper ergonomics?
The same poor posture is also possible when standing at a desk as when sitting. As we tire of standing we tend to lean, bend and focus our weight to one side, making us more susceptible to pain and injury even if we use a standing desk.
Fatigue is one of the major downsides of either sitting or standing at a desk. When our muscles are tired from either standing or sitting for long periods of time we shift our weight which can put a strain on the back, neck, legs, feet, and lower back. But when alternating sitting and standing in a cycle we reduce fatigue.
How standing desks can help to improve posture and reduce back and neck pain
A sit to stand desk will help to reduce strain on the back and neck muscles by promoting movement and giving tired muscles a break. Furthermore, when used correctly standing desks will help you strengthen your core and leg muscles, which can improve overall muscle stability and support your posture.
The key is movement, switching between sitting and standing regularly. When we stand, we engage our muscles and move, reducing the risk of pain and injury as well as avoiding physiological pitfalls of a sedentary lifestyle.
But after standing for a short period of time our legs get tired, we lean and shift weight onto the desk itself: it’s time to sit.
Switching to sitting again (with proper ergonomic posture) will prevent our legs from tiring. But sitting with proper form takes enough work that over time we get tired of that too, making it time to switch back to standing.
This back and forth between sitting and standing is the key to success with standing desks, and that is why it is recommended to switch every 30 minutes.
The Benefits of Movement at Work
Exercise and moving our bodies at work and in life is so important. And it’s not just fatigue and posture, movement throughout the day has an impact on our overall productivity and wellbeing. More movement at work creates lasting positive effects on our physical fitness, creativity and mood.
Movement at work can be beneficial for improving physical fitness. As mentioned above, physical activity can help reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. But like regular exercise, movement throughout the day improves our balance and coordination and boosts energy levels.
Movement can help to stimulate the mind to get the creative juices flowing through a mechanism called embodied cognition. According to this theory, physical activity can enhance mental activity and increase creative thinking because the body and mind are intimately connected. So the physical act of movement stimulates cognitive processes.
There are so many benefits to movement at work
The mental process of initiating physical activity also helps clear the mind, which improves concentration and increases the flow of ideas. Another physiological link between movement and creativity is the increase of blood flow to the brain which provides it with more oxygen and nutrients necessary for creative thinking.
Movement at work can also help to improve mood. Exercise has been found to help with reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, while also increasing energy and alertness. Exercise releases endorphins and reduces levels of cortisol. More endorphins, our natural feel-good hormones, and less cortisol, the stress hormone, results in an improved mood. Better cortisol control also helps to improve sleep quality which can also lead to an improved mood.
And there are even more benefits of movement related to our mood. Physical activity provides a distraction from ruminating and negative feelings which helps to improve self-esteem. Regular activity even promotes a sense of accomplishment and control which can help to reduce symptoms of depression.
Because we’re at work for much of our waking lives, moving our bodies at work is a great way to improve our physical fitness, creativity and mood. Taking advantage of regular movement is the best way to get the most out of your standing desk.
Some Tips for Using a Standing Desk Correctly
It’s so easy to overlook the challenge of switching to a standing desk. The key is to transition from your current set up gradually.
Going from sitting all day to standing all day can be a shock to the body, so it's best to start by standing for just a few minutes at a time and gradually increasing the amount of time spent standing over the course of several weeks.
There is a correct height for you at your desk for sitting or standing (see below), and most desks will save it. Use the buttons next to the up/down arrows to set memory presets so you can nail it every time. You’ll also save time.
Your heights are different from everybody else's. As most desks have 4 presets, so you can have sitting and standing heights for two different people.
Use an Anti-fatigue mat at your standing desk
Using a squishy mat at your desk can reduce the fatigue in your feet, knees and back the same way a soft mat will help you if you’re spending a lot of time in the kitchen. When you adjust your desk height make sure to set it while standing on this mat to accommodate for the thickness.
Regular Movement and Breaks
The most important change that switching to a standing desk offers is: more movement. You will move to stand, and move again to sit.
It's also important to move around and take regular breaks away from your standing desk. This can include taking short walks, stretching, or even doing a few exercises throughout the day. One tip is to drink lots of water because you will a) be drinking more water, and b) be forced to leave your desk to fill up your bottle and use the washroom (i.e. more movement).
Overall, it's crucial to note that it's not about standing for longer hours but about being able to move and change positions frequently. By moving around and taking regular breaks, you'll be able to reduce the risk of fatigue, boost your metabolism and improve circulation.
Adding more movement into your day is crucial for avoiding diseases linked to a sedentary lifestyle, and standing desks are a great tool to achieve this.
How to set up your standing desk
Explanation of how to adjust the height of a standing desk for optimal ergonomics
Set the right desk height for sitting
Getting the seated desk height first will prevent long term health issues.
- After setting up your chair to fit your body, pull the chair and your body to the desk.
- With your elbows resting by our side and forearms parallel to the floor - match the desk height so that your hands comfortably match the height of your arm rests when you hands are on the keyboard or mouse.
- Set the memory at this level
Set the standing height
Now is the moment you’ve been waiting for, standing at your standing desk! Go ahead and adjust the desk upwards until you are standing in a comfortable position. When setting your standing position make sure that:
- Your elbows are at your sides and shoulders are relaxed
- Bring your forearms parallel to the floor and adjust the desk height to a level where your wrists are gently resting on the desk.
- Set memory at this height by holding the M button
Make sure your hands are gently resting on the desk and you will avoid straining your shoulders, wrists and neck.
Tips for how to properly position your computer monitor and keyboard
The golden rule of monitor height is that the top of your monitor should be at the same height as the top of your head while sitting so that your eye level is the same height as the top portion of your computer screen.
To find the proper distance, reach your arms out in front of your body and your fingertips should just graze your screen. Adjust your monitor vertically and forward or backward accordingly.
Notice that your upper body is unchanged between sitting and standing, so all your desk equipment can stay the same in either position.
The big question: How often should I switch between sitting and standing?
The question that most people who use standing desks arrive at on the first day of using it is “How often should I alternate between standing and sitting?” Because standing at work is new, many standing desk users think they should stand all day and just sit when they’re feeling lazy.
When considering standing versus sitting, the answer is that you should alternate between sitting and standing often, about every half hour to avoid straining your legs while standing and also add a good amount of movement into your work day.
You can set a stopwatch or just take notice of the signs of fatigue in your body as you stand for a long time. Some clear signs of fatigue while standing are leaning on the desk or standing with a locked out knee with your hips to one side. When your body is tired of standing, transition back to an ergonomic seated position.
One of the most effective ways to improve ergonomics in the workplace is by using a standing desk. Not only do standing desks help build movement into our day, this in turn prevents physical strain, injuries and chronic disease.
When set up and used properly, standing desks have the potential to have a positive impact on our health and overall well-being. By following the tips for proper use and making the most out of your standing desk, you will start to see the benefits for yourself.
Ergonomics is the opposite of a one-size-fits-all solution and it's important to assess your own needs to find the best solution for you. Overall, ergonomics is an essential aspect of workplace design and worker health and standing desks are a powerful tool to improve it.