Over the past year, NIOSH and its Total Worker HealthTM Program have been traveling the country sharing the evidence and benefits of comprehensively integrating health protection with health promotion, including workplace programs that encourage physical activity, weight loss and stress management. Recently, we launched an internal NIOSH pilot program to explore the use of sit and stand work stations as part of a workplace health and wellbeing initiative to reduce sedentary work in our workplace.
The pilot program was inspired by emerging research on the impact of sedentary work (Van der Ploe, Chey, et al, 2012) on employee health and by new employer initiatives that aim to decrease sedentary work, such as VHA’s Wellness Program highlighted in a recent NIOSH Science Blog post. A sit-stand workstation allows the user to intermittently sit or stand while working on the computer, participating in a conference call, or performing other work. The customizable workstation allows users to easily transition between a seated and standing work position multiple times throughout the day.
Through the pilot program, we’ll gauge satisfaction with sit-stand workstations, monitor and support our employees as they try out this new intervention, and hopefully improve the health of those who choose to participate. Given that the benefits and risks of sit-stand workstations remain to be determined, we are proceeding cautiously. The devices are only just beginning to be widely used and while there are many possible benefits, there may also be drawbacks such as risks from excessive standing as well as possible ergonomic issues that that may arise with the use of any new piece of equipment. Some of the possible health benefits that have been reported with regular use of sit-stand workstations are listed below.
- Standing more while at work decreases the amount of time spent in sedentary work
- Standing more helps relieve pressure on the lower back, buttocks and legs, and may help reduce compression of the spine arising from long periods of sitting
- Standing more may improve energy levels
- Standing more frequently may improve cognition
- Standing may increase circulation and lead to better blood flow to the brain and other organs
- Standing more burns more calories than sitting
- Standing more may assist with energy balance and aid in weight management
- Standing more may improve bone density over time
- Standing more may promote better sleep
The program is underway with 34 NIOSH volunteers in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Washington, D.C., Denver, Morgantown and Pittsburgh selected for the program. The participants agreed to regularly use the units, complete user satisfaction and other surveys, participate in focus groups, and share their experiences with others. Enthusiasm is high and initial reports are positive. Here is what some of the users are saying:
“I have had a somewhat chronic back problem (sciatica) that is exacerbated by sitting for long periods of time. I was very interested when I saw one of the sit-stand keyboard/monitor units and I have been fortunate to be using one now for over two weeks. It took a few days before I began to regulate the sitting and standing in a balanced way. At first I actually was standing too much and my legs bothered me a bit (I need more arch support in my shoes I think). However I am now seeing noticeable benefits both at work and in the morning when I first get out of bed. I feel more energetic and also have noticed no back pain whatsoever. I still need to work out a couple of things in terms of logistics such as taking phone calls when I am standing but overall it has been completely positive. My work involves a lot of time on the keyboard and I tend to fixate and did not stretch/stand nearly enough and that likely explains the high degree of benefit that I am experiencing.”
“I have had the standing workstation since October 30th and I LOVE it! As a matter of fact if they decide to take it away, they may need to bring security with them. 😉 I was diagnosed with hypersomnia which includes recurrent episodes of excessive daytime sleepiness or prolonged nighttime sleep. This is different from feeling tired due to lack of or interrupted sleep at night. My job is almost all sitting in front of my computer. Since I have had this workstation, I have had maybe one day when I felt as tired as I used to be and I realized that I had been sitting too long. I stood up and it was much better. I don’t stand all the time, but probably 5-6 hours of the day. I find that if I am able to move around more, I have less trouble with the hypersomnia. Because I am standing so much, I would suggest having shoes for standing (makes a big difference) and get a standing mat ( I have ordered one). At first my feet and back were a little sore since I wearing shoes that were not good for standing and was not using a mat. “
“I’ve really enjoyed it. I feel like it has helped with some minor back issues I go thru from time to time. I would like to eventually get the tray because I think I would even use the station more. It’s nice to have the option of standing because it can be tiring to sit all day. Even though the screen will move up and down, there have been several occasions that it would have been helpful if it moved side-ways, which it does not. All and all, I do like it.”
“I’ve really enjoyed the new workstation. I have been using the sit-stand workstation for about three months. I have lower back and hip pain and being able to easily switch between sitting and standing helps reduce some of the pain I experience from sitting all day!”
You may see comments from the study volunteers in this blog. They will identify themselves as a NIOSH sit-stand user. The pilot program will last 12 months and we will update you during the year with additional information. We would love to hear from others who use these workstations or offer them in their workplace.
L. Casey Chosewood, MD and Constance C. Franklin, MPA
Dr. Chosewood is the Senior Medical Officer for Total Worker HealthTM at NIOSH
Ms. Franklin is a Public Health Analyst at NIOSH