People + Process = Performance

Is the “Stand Up” Message Becoming A Danger To Workers?

“Sitting is the new smoking”   “Sitting is going to kill you”  “Stand Up!”

If you’ve been watching TV, reading the newspapers or blogs online you’ve probably heard or seen similar if not the exact statements as above.  Within the past few years, research started to seriously look at the effects of prolonged sitting.  The results are showing that prolonged sitting has a detrimental effect on people’s health.  I’m not here to debate the science—absolutely not.  I’m all for informing the public on the negative effects of excessive sitting.  However, the messaging of the dangers of prolonged sitting has me concerned.  As an ergonomist who frequently works with sedentary workers, i.e. those who are tethered to the computer, I have started to hear statements from them that tell me the message they hear—or perhaps the message they perceive and internalize is going in a just as bad direction.  They read the statement that “sitting is the new smoking” and translate that to “I’m going to die if I don’t stop sitting”.  You may think I’m exaggerating or making this up.  Unfortunately I am not.

I’ve had office workers tell me they need a standing desk so they can stand all day or that they wished their job was one in which they could stand all day.  I am quick to tell them—“no you don’t wish you had a job to stand all day”.  Prolonged standing has negative effects too.  A recent article titled “Stand Up!” appeared in the main newspaper in my area, the StarTribune (the official article title was “Sitting all day at work can be dangerous for your health” but the main heading that went with the person walking on a treadmill desk was “Stand Up!”).  There was lots of good information about the effects of prolonged sitting, that our bodies are meant to be active and that we need to keep moving to be healthy.  That last part, “we need to keep moving to be healthy” should be the primary message that people take away.  Instead they read the provocative headlines, “Sitting Kills”, “Stand Up.” And decide they need to stand all day long.  They ask me to recommend a standing desk and an antifatigue mat.  Again, I am quick to point out that you are not on an assembly line, you are not a cashier, you are not a nurse—nor should you want to be just so you can stand.  Those workers would give anything to be able to sit for a few minutes on and off during their work shift.

I’m starting to feel like a lone wolf crying out in the wilderness trying to get people to use common sense and realize that everything in moderation is best, that sitting, walking and standing are very good for the body in small chunks of time—none are meant to be done all day long.  The last thing a worker and employer wants are new or different health issues or workers’ comp injuries, such as foot, knee or back pain, all caused from workers switching from sitting to standing all day.  The message that should be getting out is that a prolonged posture—whether sitting, standing, bending, etc. is bad.  The very next sentence should simply be “Move”, i.e. to the best way to stay healthy is to move.  Your best posture is your next posture so alter it!  “Cross training”, the combination of sitting, standing, walking at work (and at home!) is good for you.

For those of us who deal with the health and wellness of people at work and/or home, let’s be cognizant of the messages that are being sent regarding prolonged sitting, i.e. “sitting disease”.  The all or nothing approach is not good, helpful or healthy.  Let’s focus on getting the work environment and processes designed right—to support movement.  When the design is good, when it incorporates human factors and ergonomics, then the workers will intuitively move throughout the work shift.  Good design will reinforce the message.  That’s what I want to see—Movement by Design.


What do you think?