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Taking a stand against standing desks

ByAilsa Wolfe

Mar 27, 2018

We live in an age of “wellness.” This trend has come to permeate nearly all aspects of our lives, particularly the workplace. In this way, many large corporations, eager to demonstrate their altruistic zeal, have made great efforts to ensure the well-being of their employees. The promotion of “active workstations”, such as standing desks and treadmills, is one of the many ways in which companies have sought to incorporate this into working life. However, whilst such efforts may on the surface appear to demonstrate employers’ commitment to the welfare of their workers, concerns have been raised about the true efficacy of these measures.

In research undertaken by a team of Finnish scientists from the University of Jyvaskyla, it was found that there is little evidence to suggest that standing workstations offer any notable benefits to workers’ health. Their findings were published earlier this year in the International Journal of Networking and Virtual Organisations (IJNVO). Manufacturers promise that they lead to overall improved physical health, posture, and counteract mental stress. The researchers focused their investigations on workers in the software industry, where large periods of time are spent sitting sedentary at a desk. They assessed employers using a questionnaire and a test called the Firstbeat Lifestyle Assessment service. The team looked at physical activity, mental alertness, stress, and musculoskeletal stress in their study.

Their results showed that active workstations lead to “only modest promotions of physical activity.” In fact, the stress-recovery balance is often tipped more towards stress, it was found. Moreover, employees did not report any increase in work posture comfort using the standing workstations and there was no overall effect upon workplace satisfaction. Figures showed that any physical improvements were negligible; heart rate increased by 4.2 beats per minute on average which equates to an extra 6.1 kilocalories burned per hour and a very slight reduction in upper body tension. In fact, these minute improvements were essentially canceled out by the fact that standing for long periods increases the risk of developing varicose veins and potentially lower-back problems.

These findings are perhaps all too predictable and not only if you are a cynical commentator. We are constantly under bombardment from companies and manufacturers trying to win us over with products and initiatives that promise to offer us significant health benefits. Much of this turns out to be more marketing hype than anything else.

Image credit: Adam Ross via Pexels

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