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Sit and Stand Workstations Cut Health Risks of Sedentary Jobs

Desks that give workers the option of sitting or standing while performing their jobs may help cut health risks associated with sedentary occupations….

In a published article Nicolaas Pronk, PhD, vice president and health science officer, Journey Well, HealthPartners, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and colleagues note that numerous studies have found prolonged sitting to be associated with increased risks for mortality, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, metabolic syndrome, and obesity.

"In contrast," they write, "breaks in prolonged sitting time have been correlated with beneficial metabolic profiles among adults, suggesting that frequent breaks in sedentary activity may explain lower health risk related to waist circumference, body mass index (BMI), triglyceride levels, and 2-hour plasma glucose levels."

Dr. Pronk and colleagues conducted a practice-based study, part of what they call the Take-a-Stand Project, aimed at using sit-stand devices to reduce sitting time and improve the health profile of workers with sedentary jobs. The study included 34 office workers with sedentary jobs that involve computer operations, telephone interaction, and various administrative duties.

"The project was implemented over a 7-week period with a baseline period of 1 week (period 1) in which all 34 participants were monitored without intervention; an intervention period of 4 weeks during which sit-stand devices were installed for the intervention group only (period 2); and a postintervention period of 2 weeks (period 3) without intervention for either group," the researchers write.

During the intervention period, the workspaces of participants in the intervention group (n = 24) were outfitted with sit-stand devices that could be raised or lowered to suit the workers’ preferences, thereby enabling them to do their jobs either standing or sitting. The researchers say that the time spent changing positions did not significantly interrupt work flow. Participants in the control group (n = 10) received no intervention.

After 4 weeks, the sit-stand devices were removed from the intervention groups’ workspaces.

Throughout the study, the researchers tracked how long the participants spent standing, sitting, and walking. They also surveyed the participants at 3 points during the study: at baseline, at the end of week 5, and at the end of the study. The final survey asked all participants for feedback on their experiences related to the project.

"The survey included questions related to participant characteristics, including age, sex, body weight and height, physical activity levels and intensities, estimated cardiorespiratory fitness, self-perceived health status, role physical (degree of problems with work or other daily activities as a result of physical health issues), role emotional (degree of problems with work or other daily activities as a result of emotional health issues), and job type," the investigators write.

Installing the sit-stand devices increased nonsitting time, reduced upper back and neck pain, and improved mood states, according to the authors. They also note that when the devices were removed from the workers’ environments, most of the positive effects seen during the intervention vanished. More specifically, the intervention increased nonsitting behavior by 224% (by 66 minutes/day), which translated to a 16.1% reduction in sedentary time.

In addition, as part of the survey carried out at the end of the study period, the intervention group was asked about the perceived benefits of having the sit-stand devices in their workspaces: 87% said they felt more comfortable in their work environments, 87% said they felt more energized, 75% reported feeling healthier, 71% felt more focused, 66% felt more productive, 62% felt happier, and 33% said they felt less stressed in their jobs.

The researchers conclude, "The Take-A-Stand Project was able to show that improvement in health factors such as back health indicators and mood states are directly related to reductions in sitting time of workers engaged in sedentary job tasks. Overall, this project was successful in reducing sedentary behaviors of workers and suggests reduced sitting time improves worker health."

Prev Chronic Dis. Oct. 2012;9:110323. Full text