Rethink your office landscape for maximum mobility - GulfToday

Rethink your office landscape for maximum mobility

A combination of sitting, standing, and moving over the course of the workday is the best way to avoid postural risk and physical comfort.

Manjula Ramakrishnan

“Our bodies are made for movement. Standing and moving are unique biological triggers that play a key role in being healthy. Unfortunately, the sedentary life that many office workers have adopted affects their health regardless of how carefully they eat or how much they exercise,” says Stacy Stewart, regional director for the Middle East and Africa region, Herman Miller.

Herman Miller is a globally recognised provider of furnishings, related technologies and services.  Since its inception in 1905, the company has relied on innovative designs to offer a variety of products for environments where people live, learn, work and heal.

“A study that followed 17,000 Canadians, ages 18 to 90, for 12 years showed that ‘the time spent sitting on a daily basis was associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality’,’’ Stacy explained to Panorama.

Rest of the interview follows.

Can you explain the philosophy – sit, stand, move, repeat – that Herman Miller promotes?

The human body is made to move, and for the first six million years, humans either did keep moving (quickly and often), or they didn’t survive. Even during agrarian times, people spent their days moving from one chore to the next. Activity wasn’t built into life; it was life. Then came the Industrial Revolution and the era of industry and, soon after, high technology.

Today, in an era of ideas in which the greatest value is derived from creativity, many people sit much of the time. Nearly 50,000 adults around the world reported they sit three to eight hours each workday, with many of those in developed countries sitting more than nine hours a day. Sitting and seldom moving leads to office workers feeling often drowsy, easily fatigued, and prone to injury. Providing people with natural ways to move throughout their workday can reverse these negative effects and contribute to people’s overall health.

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Stacy Stewart, regional director for Herman Miller.

What are the ill-effects of prolonged sitting?

Sitting for extended time periods is linked with visual symptoms, high triglycerides, obesity, insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Without regular and incidental standing and walking, the activity of lipo-protein lipase, the enzyme that breaks down plaque-causing fats in our blood, drops off significantly.

Prolonged sitting has also been shown to result in increasing worker discomfort over the course of the workday. And, research shows an association between increasing discomfort and decreasing productivity, as well as future pain. What’s more, the causal chain from prolonged, immobile sitting to possible health risks exists even when one sits in a highly adjustable, ergonomically supportive work chair.

So is standing as often as possible the next best thing to do?

If sitting all day poses such risks, some say the answer is to stand. However, abandoning one’s chair to work all day at a stand-up surface is associated with its own hazards: lower extremity discomfort and fatigue, lower extremity swelling and venous pooling, lower back pain, and entire body fatigue could be the result of excessive standing.

The risks associated with prolonged standing have prompted some to propose methods for increasing walking time over the course of the workday. Attempts have included combining a treadmill or a bicycle with a work surface. However, the health risks these methods present – in terms of eye strain and fatigue from a mismatch in support for gross and fine motor activities –outweigh any potential benefits.

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A combination of sitting, standing, and moving over the course of the workday is the best way to avoid postural risk and physical comfort.

So what would be the best way to resolve this?

A third way is needed: because work requires sitting, standing, and moving, the ideal landscape of the workplace would naturally afford people choice among a variety of postures. The result is an environment that is good for both mind and body.

The practice of alternating between sitting and standing at work has been linked to increased HDL (good cholesterol), more frequent muscle contractions, decreased incidence of breathing difficulties, and decreased swelling of the lower limbs. Sit-to-stand practices have also been linked with helping our bodies properly express the genes necessary to build healthy muscle. Sit-to-stand work reduces low back discomfort and causes significantly less discomfort compared to sitting-only work. Importantly, sit-to-stand working seems to show little or no decrease in productivity overall compared to seated office work. As discomfort decreases, in fact, productivity should increase.

Therefore, a combination of sitting, standing, and moving over the course of the workday – and not too much of any one activity – is the best approach to managing the balance between postural risk and physical comfort. Pairing a work landscape that includes postural choices with education to help people learn how to listen to their bodies equips them to make postural change a natural part of what they do at work. Besides, height-adjustable furniture can reduce sitting time by up to 60 per cent and training on how to adjust furniture multiplies its benefits.