In recent years, as employers have fought double-digit increases in health premiums while simultaneously trying to squeeze maximum productivity out of their workers, a hot trend in office design has given new meaning to the term “multitasking.” So-called “kinetic office furniture” — treadmill desks — lets workers burn calories while performing traditionally sedentary activities.
Kinetic furniture is showing up in more workplaces as employers buy into evidence that sedentary work is bad for workers’ health and their output. In some Silicon Valley firms, kinetic furniture has achieved iconic status, signifying the type of techie who refuses to plop down on a Goodwill sofa amid empty Skittles packages to write code.
Ergonomics experts, however, aren’t so sure. A recent study suggests that increased activity does not necessarily lead to heightened productivity. In fact, there appears to be a trade-off that employers should factor into any decision to purchase kinetic office furniture.
The study focused on treadmill desks, which feature a conventional computer monitor and keyboard instead of the digital biometric display usually found on exercise treadmills. In the study, workers walking at a slow rate on the treadmill were asked to type words that appeared on the screen before them. A control group sitting at regular desks performed the same task. The treadmill walkers made more mistakes and typed more slowly than the control group.
Researchers also gave the workers cognitive tasks to perform while walking, trying to memorize a series of words and perform math problems. The seated workers outscored the walkers even more significantly on these tests.
Study critics have noted that cognition usually improves after exercise, not necessarily during. Still, it appears that employers should perform a cost-benefit analysis to determine whether treadmill desks are a step in the right direction.
Content originally published online by The HR Specialist, August 15, 2015.
A team from Gensler conducted
secondary research to identify opportunities for design to improve the
health and well-being of traders, addressing issues of stress and poor
decision-making often associated with today’s trading environments. The
goal was to explore the neurological and biological considerations
relevant to the financial workplace, alongside progressive ergonomic,
technological, and design strategies relevant to creating healthier and
more effective trading environments.
This study stemmed from the following factors. Financial trading ranks among the most high-pressure and stressful knowledge worker occupations. With success or failure hinging on the traders’ ability to instantaneously process, analyze, and react to multiple and increasingly fast-paced streams of information, debilitating stress and high burnout rates have become all but endemic for traders, a startling state for a profession where most workers are only in their 20s or 30s.
A typical trader’s workday begins long before market opening with research and preparation, and extends long after closing, recapping the day’s efforts and planning for the next. While the market is open, turnaround times for trades are often measured in seconds or even milliseconds, with traders performing a delicate balancing act between risk taking and risk avoidance. One wrong decision or even an incorrect keystroke can spell disaster.
But change is on the horizon. The financial crisis still looms large over Wall Street, causing firms to question industry and company norms. With clients seeking change, Gensler’s research project is a critical step in helping trading firm clients redefine both their workplace and, in turn, their work culture.
By understanding the current physical characteristics of trading floors and the potential to map behavior and space, financial firms can redesign these environments to mitigate stress, shape positive behavior, and break the risk cycle. The potential rewards are profound. It is not just the health and well-being of traders at stake, but in many ways the health of financial markets themselves.
Gensler discovered that while the technology and increasingly high-pressure processes of trading have changed drastically in the digital age, the trading floor itself has seen little workplace design innovation. In contrast to the dramatic changes in other corporate workplaces, trading floors remain defined by dense, unvarying linear layouts more akin to a factory or production floor. These layouts ignore the potential benefits of more progressive workplace strategies characterized by openness and collaborative spaces, support of focus, and variety of work settings.
To begin the research, Gensler identified broad areas in which the physical trading floor environment might help improve the employee experience. From that initial list, three topics revealed themselves as having the strongest potential for positive impact: control, sensory stimuli, and behavioral ergonomics. Additional factors to consider include acoustics, amenities, density, indoor air quality, lighting, lines of sight, mobility, and temperature/humidity.
With this in mind, Gensler drew the following conclusions. Control of the physical environment may mitigate risk-seeking behavior. Traders are prime candidates for “control illusions” in their daily practices. They are prone to seek and over-estimate their control of the market—the greater this feeling of control, the worse their performance. We are exploring the possibility that familiarity and certainty within the immediate work environment may reduce the need to control the uncontrollable.
Curate sensory stimuli to minimize stress, rather than amplify it. The quality of light and sound cause physical reactions that affect performance and cognitive state. Prolonged exposure to fluorescent lighting in the absence of natural light is associated with dampened moods, a particular problem for traders working long hours. Views and sight-lines also impact experience, especially when providing connections to nature.
Consider posture carefully. Proper posture has been shown to improve cognitive function, emotional disposition, and decision-making. Open or expansive postures may even improve confidence and minimize errors. This improved confidence does come with a caveat—open postures are also associated with increased levels of risk and dishonesty.
With evidence mounting that sitting for long stretches of time is unhealthy, many of us naturally wonder how best to respond. Should we stand up, or is merely standing insufficient? Must we also stroll or jog or do jumping jacks?
A new study offers some helpful perspective, suggesting that even a few minutes per hour of moving instead of remaining in a chair might substantially reduce the harms of oversitting.
As most of us have heard by now, long bouts of sitting can increase someone’s risk for diabetes, heart disease, obesity, kidney problems and premature death. These risks remain elevated even if someone exercises but then spends most of the rest of his or her waking hours in a chair.
In a representative and sobering study being published next month in Diabetologia, scientists found that every hour that overweight adults spent watching television, which is a handy way to measure sitting time at home, increased their risk of becoming diabetic by 3.4 percent. Most of the participants were watching nearly three hours a day.
But despite such health concerns, simply advising people to abandon their chairs and stand all day is impractical. Many of us who have experimented with standing or treadmill desks have discovered that they can have their own deleterious impacts on typing accuracy, general productivity and our lower backs.
So what reasonable steps could and should people take throughout the day to reduce sitting time?
To help to answer that question, researchers at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and other institutions recently turned to the immense trove of data available in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which annually asks a cross section of Americans about how they eat, exercise, feel and generally conduct their lives.
Recently, as part of the data collection process, some participants have begun wearing monitors that objectively track their movement patterns. (Otherwise, the data relies on people’s recall of activities, which can be unreliable.)
The researchers gathered monitor data for 3,626 adult men and women, most of whom reported being generally healthy at the start of the study period.
Using standard activity measurements, the researchers then divided each of these participant’s days into minutes spent sitting; participating in low-intensity activity (since the monitors couldn’t pick up changes in posture, but only in bodily movements, they couldn’t measure standing per se); engaging in light-intensity activities, such as strolling around a room; or doing moderate to intense activities, such as jogging.
Most of the participants spent most of each day sitting.
The scientists then checked death records for three or four years after the survey, to determine how many of the participants had passed away during that time.
They used the resulting numbers to statistically determine participants’ overall risk of premature death and what role sitting or not sitting had played in that risk, as well as the relative importance of what someone did instead of sitting.
In other words, the scientists wanted to see whether standing, walking or jogging in lieu of sitting was best at extending lifespans.
What they found was unexpected. A low-intensity activity like standing, by itself, had little effect on mortality risk. Those people in the study who spent a few minutes each hour engaged in such low-intensity activities did not show much if any decline in death risk, compared with those who sat the most.
But those who walked around after standing, replacing some of their sitting time with a light-intensity activity like strolling, gained a substantial benefit in terms of mortality risk.
In fact, if they replaced as little as two minutes of sitting each hour with gentle walking, they lowered their risk of premature death by about 33 percent, compared with people who sat almost nonstop.
The researchers found an additional reduction in mortality risk if people engaged in moderate exercise instead of sitting, although the numbers of respondents who jogged or leapt about instead of sitting was so small that statistical determinations were difficult.
Over all, the study’s findings are “encouraging,” said Dr. Srinivasan Beddhu, a professor of medicine at the University of Utah, who led the study. They are especially so since the benefits seem to be additive, he said. Someone who already is walking for two minutes per hour and now starts to walk two minutes more — displacing an additional two minutes of what had been sitting time — could reduce his or her risk of premature death even more than from walking two minutes alone.
This reduction in death risk is likely related to energy balance, Dr. Beddhu said. Strolling instead of sitting increases the number of calories that someone burns, potentially contributing to weight loss and other metabolic changes, which then affect mortality risk.
But because this study is observational, he said, it doesn’t prove that walking instead of sitting directly reduces death risk, only that the two are associated.
Still, the possible benefits of strolling more often around the office seem alluring and the risks slight, especially if you invite your boss to join you, highlighting your tender care for his or her well-being.
A study from the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health finds students with standing desks are more attentive than their seated counterparts. In fact, preliminary results show 12 percent greater on-task engagement in classrooms with standing desks, which equates to an extra seven minutes per hour of engaged instruction time.
The findings, published in the International Journal of Health Promotion and Education, were based on a study of almost 300 children in second through fourth grade who were observed over the course of a school year. Engagement was measured by on-task behaviors such as answering a question, raising a hand or participating in active discussion and off-task behaviors like talking out of turn.
Standing desks - also known as stand-biased desks - are raised desks that have stools nearby, enabling students to sit or stand during class at their discretion. Mark Benden, Ph.D., CPE, associate professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, who is an ergonomic engineer by trade, originally became interested in the desks as a means to reduce childhood obesity and relieve stress on spinal structures that may occur with traditional desks. Lessons learned from his research in this area led to creation of Stand2LearnTM, an offshoot company of a faculty-led startup that manufactures a classroom version of the stand-biased desk.
Benden’s previous studies have shown the desks can help reduce obesity - with students at standing desks burning 15 percent more calories than students at traditional desks (25 percent for obese children) - and there was anecdotal evidence that the desks also increased engagement. The latest study was the first designed specifically to look at the impact of classroom engagement.
Benden said he was not surprised at the results of the study, given that previous research has shown that physical activity, even at low levels, may have beneficial effects on cognitive ability.
“Standing workstations reduce disruptive behavior problems and increase students’ attention or academic behavioral engagement by providing students with a different method for completing academic tasks (like standing) that breaks up the monotony of seated work,” Benden said. “Considerable research indicates that academic behavioral engagement is the most important contributor to student achievement. Simply put, we think better on our feet than in our seat.”
The key takeaway from this research, Benden said, is that school districts that put standing desks in classrooms may be able to address two problems at the same time: academic performance and childhood obesity.
With companies of all sizes seeking to cut healthcare costs and avoid penalties imposed by the Affordable Care Act, we’re hearing lots of news about instituting workplace wellness programs as a way to promote a healthier workforce.
Workplace practices such as ergonomic office spaces, meditation, mid-day naps, standing desks and walking meetings are being put forth as ways to create a healthier workforce.
Healthier employees benefit business in many ways. They take fewer sick days, are more productive, visit the doctor less often and are less likely to have chronic health conditions that cause their and, in turn, your business’s health insurance rates to rise.
That’s why the news in a study from Employers, an insurance specialist, is so disheartening. It reports that small companies are less likely than big ones to promote healthy workplace practices. Specifically:
77 percent of small businesses don’t offer employees non-traditional seating options such as stand-up desks, treadmill desks or balance balls
29 percent of small business owners say their employees typically sit for more than an hour at a time during the workday
The study points out that jobs are becoming increasingly sedentary and notes research showing that sitting for too long can increase the risk of obesity, heart disease and other health problems.
Consider the greater productivity you could achieve when your employees are more alert and energized. Reminding everyone to get up and stretch once an hour via the intercom or an on-screen alert on their computers can make a huge difference in health and energy levels.
Employees who work on computers most of the day should have the ergonomic equipment (desk chairs, keyboards, wrist rests and other devices) to provide a comfortable setting. Otherwise, their productivity will suffer and they could easily develop repetitive stress injuries that would rightly be cause for worker’s compensation claims.
Some small employers are also ignoring basic mental and physical health issues for employees. One-fourth of hourly and salaried employees of small companies report going three or four hours without taking a break, while 42 percent don’t use their allotted time off each year.
Taking regular, short breaks is not only crucial to refreshing employee energy, preventing errors and possibly dangerous accidents, but is also required by law for many workers. If you aren’t letting employees take breaks when they’re legally entitled, you could be setting yourself up for lawsuits.
Encouraging employees to use their time off also has benefits for you and them. For one thing, when employees who never take time off finally quit, you could end up owing them a huge chunk of wages for the time off they didn’t use. In the shorter term, of course, you’re dealing with employees who are burned out and less effective because they’re not getting any downtime.
Ignoring employee wellness not only puts their health at risk, but puts your business at risk too. That’s downright unhealthy, especially when the remedies are so easy.
Sit up straight with your fingers interlaced behind your head. Keeping your shoulders down, lift your chest and bring your elbows back as far as you can. Hold for 10 seconds.
2. Shoulder Rotations
Sit up straight. Bring your shoulders up to your ears and then back behind you. Then move them forward, making imaginary circles. Do 10 forward rolls, then roll shoulders in the reverse direction 10 times.
3. Overhead Reach
Raise your arms over your head and interlace your fingers with palms facing up. Keeping your shoulders down, stretch upwards. Hold for 20 seconds.
4. Waist Bend
Reach your arms overhead with your fingers laced together. Facing forward with your shoulders down, bend to one side from the waist. Hold for 20 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
Many of us had our mothers bugging us for years to stand up straight. While the nagging may have been annoying, they probably had a point. Having good posture not only makes you look better and improves confidence, but it helps with breathing and circulation, decreases muscle spasms, and even helps your mood.
“When someone is confident and in a winning mood, they bring their shoulders back, their head over their shoulders and their arms raised up,” says Marvin C. Lee, a chiropractor in Los Angeles. “Good posture can promote these feelings.”
With so many people sitting at their desks for the majority of the day, bad posture has become commonplace. Having bad posture can negatively affect your body, including your back, jaw, hips, and knees. This can cause a lot of pain, along with long-term damage.
“We as humans were never meant to evolve into such sedentary creatures,” says Lee. “The prolonged sitting, hunched over our phones and computers, contributes a lot to our poor postures.”
It is not too late. Just because you have bad posture now doesn’t mean you can’t fix the way you stand. Strengthening the proper muscles and focusing on how you sit and stand can help you attain proper alignment. If you find yourself constantly slumped over, consider trying some of the following tips for better posture.
1. GET UP AND MOVE
“Get up at least once an hour to go to the bathroom, bust out a quick set of stretches, or get yourself a glass of water,” says Lee. Staying hunched over at your desk can cause bad posture, so any chance you have to move around, take it.
2. SWITCH TO A STANDING DESK
While this may not be possible for everyone, getting a standing desk allows you to stay upright while you’re working and avoid the slouched-over position that’s so detrimental to our alignment.
3. TRAIN YOUR MUSCLES
By taking up a regular exercise regimen, you can train your body to not only be stronger, but to hold itself up properly. “Be diligent about proper posture while working out so you can train the proper muscles to hold that posture while you are at rest,” says Dr. Matt DeLeva, another chiropractor in Los Angeles.
4. DO A DESK STRETCH
There are many stretches you can do while seated at your desk that incorporate the shoulders, neck, back, and legs. Try a simple hamstring stretch or an easy twist to keep your muscles from tensing up in the same position all day.
5. TAKE UP YOGA
Many yoga poses incorporate back stretches, strengthen your core, and help with relaxation and flexibility. Yoga also helps bring more awareness to your body, which can help you pay attention to how you carry yourself.
6. CHANGE THE WAY YOU SIT
You can have the nicest and most ergonomic chair, but if you are sitting improperly in it, your posture will be affected. “Try lifting your chair or putting a pad under you so that your knees are lower than your hips,” says DeLeva. This will keep the correct curvature in your back and neck.
Though office spaces are becoming more collaborative, private areas are still required for phone calls, closed-door meetings, or focus work. Many companies are mixing up their space design—incorporating open desks and impromptu break areas, as well as small meeting spaces, phone booths, and conference rooms to support the various types of work that are required in a given day.
2. A Breakdown of Barriers
With more CEOs and senior managers moving out of private offices and into the open floor environment, the hierarchy of working relationships has shifted. This transparency encourages collaboration and community for everyone across the organizational chart. Sharing the floor also allows management to stay involved, know what’s going on and participate in a more meaningful way.
3. A Focus on Employee Health
We’ve all heard the news: sitting is the new smoking. In addition to the physical pain associated with slumping over computers all day, research has proven that sedentary lifestyles take a toll on health. Thus, more employers are encouraging employees to move throughout their day.
Popular desk alternatives include adjustable and standing height desks. Other than the health benefits gained by using this furniture, many companies suggest that greater creativity and a freer flow of ideas have been seen among employees who stand while working. Other chair substitutes including bosu balls and treadmill desks. In addition to furniture alternatives, companies are also promoting physical health through office design, including bicycle storage and spaces for quick workouts or stretching.
4. Collaborative Spaces
Breakout zones also encourage employees to collaborate outside the boundaries of meeting rooms. These playful gathering spaces that promote socialization lead to encounters among individuals from separate departments who may not usually interact.
5. The Workplace as a Home Away from Home
Many workspaces are becoming more casual, adopting a homey aesthetic. Rather than stiff chairs, formal desks and closed doors, today’s workplaces are incorporating breakout areas with cozy seating. These areas gives employees the opportunity to “create experiences that energize and inspire.” Employers therefore give employees options for a variety of comfortable yet productive environments to encourage longer work hours.
The workplace has begun to replace the coffee shop for many American employees. People employed in an office where coffee is served often skip Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks to save a few bucks by indulging in the free brew.
While starting the day off with a cup of java is a perfectly acceptable practice, many employees return to the coffee pot time and time again throughout the day, filling their body with loads of caffeine, and potentially high levels of sugar if they choose to sweeten their beverage.
A hot drink or a beverage break while working is loved by many–and throwing out the coffee pot to improve employees’ health without replacing it with something equally as satisfactory isn’t advised. For seven healthy alternatives to serving coffee in the workplace that your employees–and their bodies–will love, try the following:
1. Kombucha Tea
You’ve probably heard about this one but don’t know too much about it. Kombucha is a type of yeast. When you ferment it with tea, sugar, and other flavors or ingredients you make Kombucha tea. While the benefits of Kombucha are debated, many claim that it is useful for treating memory loss, preventing cancer, helping with high blood pressure, and more.
2. Yerba Mate
Yerba mate is the good alternative to coffee for those who can’t start the day without a cup o’ caffeine. Providing the same buzz that coffee gives, Yerba Mate is preferred by many as it’s packed with nutrients, too. Mate is made from the naturally caffeinated leaves of the celebrated South American rainforest holly tree. It is widely known for not having the heavy “crash” that coffee can bring. Another benefit of Yerba Mate is that it can be prepared and consumed in a variety of ways–hot, cold, with honey, in a tea infuser, in a French press, or even in a traditional coffee machine.
Most offices will have this available for you already. The teapot offers a very healthy alternative to the office coffee machine. Teas come in a myriad of forms and blends and can be drunk hot or cold. There is a massive selection of green, black, herbal, and specialty teas out there, many of which are caffeine-free and naturally sweet enough to pass on the sugar. Many teas are a well-known source of antioxidants, B vitamins, and minerals.
4. Coconut Water
Tea and coconut water are two of the healthier drinks on the market growing in popularity the fastest. Coconut water is a clear, milky liquid that comes from green, young coconuts. Coconut water is naturally sweet, contains bioactive enzymes and is chock full of rehydrating electrolytes, which makes it a good replacement for sugary sports drinks.
5. Sparkling Water
While it’s not the most exciting beverage in the world, sparkling water can be a refreshing alternative to both coffee and water. Especially when flavored with natural, sugar-free, fruit extracts, sparkling water is delicious and hydrating. There is a lot of competition in the marketplace from Perrier to San Pellegrino.
6. Hot Apple Cider
Hot apple cider’s sweet tanginess offers its own unique pick-me-up in lieu of caffeine, and its soothing warmth is just as satisfying as that of coffee on a cold fall or winter morning. In addition to its natural sweetness, because apples are the key ingredient, apple cider offers health benefits not available in coffee.
The evidence against sitting is piling up. Sitting is being linked to more and more health problems: obesity, Type 2 diabetes, a variety of cancers and cardiovascular disease, not to mention a shorter life span. There’s even a new axiom floating around, “Sitting is the new smoking.”
But unlike smoking, sitting isn’t a habit most of us can avoid. In many ways, the modern workplace is built around it. Research shows that these days less than 20 percent of jobs require moderate physical activity.
KQED’s Forum hosted a discussion about the health hazards of sitting with Dr. James Levine, author of “Get Up! Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It,” and Alan Hedge, a professor of design and environmental analysis and engineering. Here, culled from that conversation, are things that every person with a desk job should know about how to stay healthy.
1. Working Out Once a Day Is Not Enough
If you’re thinking that your gym workouts and the occasional 10-kilometer race are enough to fend off the ill effects of sitting, think again.
“Four large studies conducted in Australia and in the U.S. demonstrate that going to the gym at the end of the day sadly doesn’t quite offset the apparent harm of sitting all day long,” said Levine.
Instead, in addition to the gym workout, look for ways to incorporate movement throughout the day. This will help cut the body’s peaks “in blood sugar and triglycerides and fat by half,” said Levine.
2. Standing All Day Is Bad, Too
“The answer is not that sitting is bad, but that oversitting is bad. And that’s equally true for standing,” Hedge said.
While a standing desk is certainly a good step in reducing the amount of time you sit, standing eight hours a day has its own set of problems, including links to cardiovascular issues, varicose veins and lower back pain.
3. Variety Is Key
“The key here is to think about how do you build a more dynamic working and living lifestyle for yourself so that you’re never doing anything for too long a period of time,” said Hedge.
Instead of standing or sitting all day, design your workday to be sure “you’re mixing up your posture” and using different groups of muscles throughout the day.
One way to do this is to determine which tasks require sitting and which do not. Perhaps you can brainstorm while you walk, clean your desk while standing, sit to write reports and stand for phone calls.
And definitely utilize mobile technologies. They can allow you to “do the work that you need to do, but not to have to do it in any one location,” said Hedge.
4. Remember the 3 S’s
Sit, Stand, Stretch. Those are the actions that compose Hedge’s “ideal work pattern.” His prescription calls for 20 minutes of sitting, then eight minutes of standing, followed by two minutes of moving and stretching.
5. Take a Break
Levine said that there is more than 20 years of research supporting the health benefits of taking breaks. A break once an hour is good, but “the optimal would be every 20 to 30 minutes,” he said. And don’t simply mentally switch gears. “Get up, move around and stretch.”
6. Remember Good Posture
Standing desks are a good development as long as one is standing correctly. “Our research shows that when people start to get tired they begin to lean on the desk,” said Hedge. It’s important to maintain good neck and wrist posture. Resources about good workplace posture and setting up a healthy work station can be found on the Cornell University Ergonomics Web.
7. Movement Begets Movement
“People who tend to sit more during their workday actually sit more during their leisure time, too,” said Levine. That fact becomes all the more important if desk workers are going home and watching TV on the couch. Life expectancy decreases by 22 minutes for every hour spent watching television, according to Levine.
As bad as the news is for people with sedentary jobs, there is hope.
“There is huge variation in the amount of activity or sitting that people do,” Levine said. “Some people are naturally more active or have learned to be more active than others.” Perhaps those are the people who always volunteer to make the coffee runs.
Originally published on KQED News, December 6, 2014.
We live in a sedentary culture, where most of us spend ample time each day sitting in front of a computer screen at work. Numerous studies in the past decade have shown us this is less than ideal, and too much time kicking back can lead to disability in later life, double the risk of developing diabetes and shorter lifespan.
This has given rise to the standing desk, where users can raise and lower their work surfaces with a simple button, which has seen a 50 percent sales jump in one year’s time. However, experts say they think people are getting the wrong message about what’s actually going to improve health.
“Standing all day isn’t the answer,” says Alan Hedge, design and ergonomics professor at Cornell. “That’s where we were 100 years ago, and we needed to develop chairs to prevent curvature of the spine, backaches, and varicose veins.”
And while you may have heard that standing helps you burn more calories, it’s not as many as you think. Sitting burns roughly 1 MET energy, while standing burns 1.3 MET. (As a comparison, taking a jog will burn around 7 MET.) “The calorie burn difference between standing and sitting is so small, it probably won’t make much difference in terms of weight loss,” says Dr. I-Min Lee, an associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, who also studies sedentary behavior risk.
So it makes sense why treadmill desks are such a thing now, but let’s face it: many of us would be pretty inefficient on the job if we were also using a treadmill desk. So, right now, experts say the major fix for your health is this: movement during the day. Hedge says you should not sit at your desk for more than 20 minutes without taking a break, or stand for more than eight minutes, making sure to take two two-minute breaks per hour. Stretch. Walk around a bit. Get some coffee. Pace through a phone call. Just move!
So, here’s the rundown: Don’t sit for more than 20 minutes at a time. Don’t stand for more than 8 minutes at a time. Move for 2 minutes twice per hour to give your body a break.
Content originally published on Self.com, November 4, 2014.
Desk jockeys aren’t athletes, but they still need to stay fit.
It might be due to the darkness that accompanies shorter days, or the invasion of warmer, comfier clothes into the winter workplace, but now is the time when long hours, slouching, slumping, and straining dominate the office. Clean up your act around the computer, before bad habits lead to poor health.
Here are five ways to make sure your computer desk doesn’t become the death of you.
1. Give your monitor a second look.
If your screen is planted directly on your desktop, it’s time to ask management for a raise — for your computer’s display. According to Dr. Jim Sheedy, director of the Vision Performance Institute at Pacific University, the top of your the screen should be level with your eyes. The ideas is to get the eyes looking down about 10 degrees. If it’s any lower or higher, computer users will adapt to it by moving their head. If your screen is to low, your head points down, causing neck and back aches. High displays, meanwhile, contribute to dry eye syndrome.
2. Poor posture? Take it on the chin.
Poor posture is something that every office-based employee should consider throughout their day. Most people sitting at a computer get drawn into the screen, which means they crane their necks forward. This imbalance puts strain on the neck and spine. It’s like holding a bowling ball with one hand, says Dr. James Bowman, of Portland, Ore.-based Solutions Chiropractic. If your arm is vertical underneath, it puts less strain on the muscles, but lean that ball forward and your muscles have to compensate to keep it aloft. Sitting at a desk, that bowling ball is actually our head, so Bowman recommends chin retractions, or making a double chin, to keep the neck and spine lined up underneath.
“It’s probably the most effective single exercise you can do for the upper back and neck,” he says.
3. Stand up for yourself.
The modern workplace was built around the concept of sitting, but humans’ ability to stand goes back millions of years. Buck the trend of the office era with a standing desk — or, if that’s too radical, a sit-stand workstation. According to research out of the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic, sit-stand workstations helped workers replace 25 percent of their sitting time with standing up, which can increase their sense of well being and decreased their fatigue and appetite. The Jarvis Desk can go from 26-inches to 51-inches at the push of a button, lifting up to 350 pounds of whatever’s on your desk—including multiple monitors.
“I definitely feel healthier standing while working as it causes me to be more focused on my posture and ‘hold’ myself better in terms of my stomach and shoulders especially,” says Dan McCormack, who uses a Jarvis Desk at his home office in Austin, Texas.
4. Move it or lose it.
But why stand when you could walk? Many offices around the country are getting wise to treadmill desks, which can help workers burn 100 calories more per hour over sitting, according to a study by the National Institutes of Health.
“The most important thing is to switch it up and work in different positions throughout the day,” says Emily Couey, Eventbrite’s vice president of people. The online event ticketing service offers multiple workspace options including traditional sitting desks, standing desks, and treadmill desks, which Couey says “people love, because it allows them move while they work — especially those with fitness trackers counting their daily steps.”
5. Pace yourself.
All work and no play makes Jack a bad employee. Whether it’s on their phone in the bathroom or on the computer in their cube, everyone takes sanity breaks to check their Facebook or read some news. The Pomodoro Technique even encourages this kind of behavior by breaking tasks into “pomodoros,” intense 25 minute work bursts, followed by five-minute breaks.
Named because they can be measured using little tomato-shaped kitchen timers (Pomodoro is Italian for tomato), this method lets people work intensely and stave off distraction, yet rewards them with time to goof off, as well. If you don’t have a tomato timer handy, there are a lot of apps online to keep track of your sessions. But Francesco Cirillo, the technique’s founder, recommends using the real deal.
“You have to be able to actually wind it up,” Cirillo says in his book, The Comodoro Technique. “The act of winding up the Pomodoro is a declaration of your determination to start working on the activity at hand.”
Originally published on Time.com, November 7, 2014.
Employees who work in environments with natural elements reported a 13% higher level of well-being and are 8% more productive overall, according to a report of 3600 workers in eight countries in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), commissioned by modular flooring experts Interface.
The Human Spaces report led by organizational psychologist Professor Sir Cary Cooper found less than ideal working conditions for EMEA employees. Two fifths of EMEA office employees have no natural light in their working environment, over half don’t have access to any greenery in their working environment and 7% of EMEA workers have no window in their workspace. Spain reported the highest number of office employees with no windows (15%), and also had the most stressed workforce. In contrast, Germany and Denmark reported the least number of workers with no windows (2% and 3% respectively), and had the happiest workforce.
With nearly two-thirds (63%) of EMEA office workers now based in either a town or city center and spending on average 34 hours per week in the office, their interaction with nature is becoming increasingly limited, the report argued. Despite city-dominated lives, the research found workers have an inherent affinity to elements that reflect nature.
“The work environment has always been recognized as essential to employee well-being and performance but often purely as a ‘hygiene factor’,” remarked Cooper. “The report clearly illustrates the connection between the impact of working environments and productivity. It’s no coincidence that the most modern employers now take a new view, designing environments to help people thrive, collaborate and be creative. Being connected to nature and the outside world, biophilic design, to give it its real name, is a big part of that.”
The research findings have implications for design in the office space, according to Mandy Leeming, design and development manager (UK) at Interface. “Contact with nature and design elements which mimic natural materials has been shown to positively impact health, performance and concentration, and reduce anxiety and stress. When it comes to creating office spaces that achieve this, it’s about taking the nuances of nature that we subconsciously respond to, such as colors and textures, and interpreting them. Ultimately improving the well-being, productivity and creativity of the workforce is key to the success of market leading organizations.”
EMEA workers listed the following top five natural elements on their wish list for their ideal office space:
Every week, ergonomics expert July Landis walks into offices and observes workers slouching in their chairs and leaning over keyboards with hunched shoulders. Some are straining their necks to view too-high computer monitors and others are awkwardly twisting their bodies to grab their phone or read documents.
She sees recipes for pain.
“There are all kinds of ways that people, without realizing it, are doing things to injure themselves at work,” says Landis, president and CEO of Ergo Concepts, a suburban Germantown, Maryland ergonomics consulting firm hired by large and small companies to create pain-free office environments.
Every year, about 1 million people strain their necks, hurt their backs or sprain their wrists so badly that they need serious medical attention and can’t return to work for days, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That lost work time and the medical costs relating to treating disabling workplace injuries cost U.S. businesses more than $20 billion in 2011, according to a 2013 report by Liberty Mutual Insurance, a Boston-based company that analyzes federal ergonomics data to create its national Workplace Safety Index.
Further, new research shows that the amount of time people spend sitting is causing injury to their health. Adults who sit for more than four hours a day, compared with those who sit for just two hours, have a 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause and a 125 percent increased risk of health problems related to cardiovascular disease, says James Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic.
“Sitting is the new smoking,” says Landis.
Whiles some smaller companies and single-individual-run businesses may feel they don’t have the money or time for ergonomics, there are quantifiable savings, says Bruce Lyon, director of risk control at the Hays Companies, an employee-benefits brokerage firm based in Kansas City, Missouri. For every $1 that a company spends on workplace safety, its return on investment is about $4 to $6, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates.
“Employers and employees often don’t think of sitting as dangerous,” says Lyon. “But if you are static and sitting in an incorrect posture for an extended period, that constricts blood flow. Eventually, the restriction causes soft tissue damage, and for some it can be debilitating.”
To prevent injuries, Landis, a physical therapist by training, and her staff help companies purchase ergonomically correct office equipment and provide evaluation and training to employees. They teach how body positions and daily work activities can lead to the development of chronic pain.
“There is no one-size-fits-all method of pieces of equipment,” says Landis, whose company has consultants in 45 U.S. cities. “You have to evaluate each person’s height, weight and body type, whether they are right- or left-handed, the amount of time they are sitting in front of a computer, and then, through a collaborative discussion, tailor a solution to that person.”
Consistent themes do arise. For example, in a recent evaluation visit to the American Institutes for Research (AIR) in Washington, D.C., Landis worked with Sohni Anand and Chris Graham. Anand suffered from chronic, tingling neck pain, while Graham had occasional lower back pain. After talking and watching while they worked, Landis spotted the problems: incorrectly positioned chairs, computer monitors, keyboards and feet. She gave both AIR employees lessons on using and positioning their equipment, and then offered advices on ways to stay active during the day.
A half hour after Landis had made the fixes, Anand said, “I already feel better.”
Originally published in the Costco Connection, August 2014.
Approximately a decade ago, the first adjustable-height desks hit the market. These “sit/stand” alternatives to traditional office seating could be manually adjusted or, with the help of an electric motor and push of a button, shifted according to a worker’s needs and preferences. They were intriguing, but costly, as they were considered specialty items.
Over the past few years, and even as recently as the last few weeks, a number of studies have come out pointing to the health detriments of sitting too much, from back and neck pain to increased risk of organ damage and circulatory issues. Experts from the National Institute of Health, Mayo Clinic and more began speaking out about the benefits of motion. Companies, in turn, are starting to listen.
How do I know? This summer alone I’ve encountered several clients who have asked about incorporating adjustable-height desks and other seating alternatives into their office design. Our firm recently completed a project where 20 percent of the office’s desks were adjustable. In addition to clients proactively approaching us, we’re also bringing adjustable-height desks up as part of the programming and workplace strategy reviews and it’s an option they are increasingly selecting. And it’s not just social media and tech firms that are buying into the trend. While not as widespread, some financial services and creative firms are embracing these alternatives and weaving them into the furniture choices they make.
As these options become more commonplace and readily available from office furniture manufacturers, they also become more cost-effective and better. Like any other technology–think of the iPhone or flat screen televisions–now that they’ve been on the market for some time, the price has gone down and the products themselves have vastly improved, thanks in part to user feedback and testing.
Solutions, however, are not limited to adjustable-height desks. There is a plethora of mobile desks on the market, which can allow the wireless worker to roll his laptop and workspace from one meeting area to the next, a model known as activity-based working. VaynerMedia, on Park Avenue South, has successfully used this option for a portion its office furniture plan. Mobile desks, hoteling and benching all allow for greater flexibility, particularly for firms whose workers travel several months out of the year for their jobs (think accountants who spend four months of the year auditing internally at a company before returning to their desks). Mobile and sit/stand desks better utilize space and square footage–a huge benefit for companies.
Whether it’s incorporating ergonomic workstations, placing stairs between two floors to encourage workers to get up, move around and interact, or other wellness measures such as spacious pantries and outdoor meeting areas for employees to get daylight and fresh air, it’s clear that healthy, flexible workplaces have made their way into the mainstream.
Originally published on the Commercial Observer, July 14, 2014.
Over the past 18 months, I’ve gained almost two inches (2 inches!) in a place I don’t need to, primarily because I changed jobs. My last job consisted of ten to twelve impossibly hectic and mobile travel days per month meeting with colleagues and clients, followed by several days working virtually at home. The travel was stressful and the workdays were long, but I was compensated by more flexible hours on my days at home that allowed me to catch a mid-day Vinyasa class a few times a week. While changing jobs afforded me the chance to move from one great company to another, it was also a drastic change in my work style. Now I’m in an office Monday through Friday, and although my work is varied and stimulating, I often feel the physical and psychological effects of being tethered to my desk; and I miss that Vinyasa class.
Increased Concern for Health and Wellness
I’m not alone. Ever since the Wall Street Journal’s July, 2012 article, “Sitting for More Than Three Hours a Day Cuts Life Expectancy” appeared (to be endlessly echoed by myriad media sources) it’s been clear that health and wellness has become a serious business concern. Yet compared to sustainability, which came to prominence in the mid-2000’s, and took years to produce real bottom line proof statements, compelling health and wellness statistics have quickly emerged. Insurance giant, AON, reports that for every dollar invested in wellness programs, companies can expect a $3.00 to $6.00 return. And the cost of not doing anything is even more dramatic. The Institute for Healthcare Consumerism estimates that the indirect costs relating to poor health can be 2-3X direct medical costs. As a result, health and wellness has become the latest clarion call of the office landscape. This is a big topic that would take much more space than this writing allows. To give you an idea of scale, at one end of the spectrum developers are offering more life-style amenities in new and repositioned properties. At the other end of the spectrum, sit-to-stand furniture options have taken center stage.
Solutions to Meet a Rising Need
Bruce Wells, Director of Marketing and Development for benching and trading desk manufacturer Innovant, reports that just in the past six months, 90% of his conversations with clients have centered on sit-to-stand options. Key motivators for concerned employers are the potential health benefits of standing (or more specifically, not sitting all day) and the opportunity to give something back after transitioning employees to smaller benching applications. In providing a choice, the sit-to-stand option offers workers some control over their immediate work environment.
Because this represents a significant workplace investment, there are factors to consider before committing to the sit stand option. First, “who gets it?” Providing everyone with standing desks avoids inequality but could strain the budget. Firms struggling with this might consider supplying them to workers - like traders, call center operators and receptionists - who are less mobile during the workday. Second, a thorough cost/benefit analysis of day one vs. retrofit day two installations is recommended for anyone considering a phased approach. Other considerations include power sources, wire management and monitor arms for retrofit applications; requests for foot rests and stools (vs. chairs); potential HVAC adjustments; and user safety and office etiquette protocols. Finally, at a cost of $1000 or more per unit, sit-to-stand desks are likely to be part of a holistic solution rather than the solution itself.
“Inconvenient Planning Strategies”
On the aforementioned spectrum between the amenities being included in new construction and sit-to-stand desks, are some planning options designers have been employing for some time to get people up and out of their seats. Called “Inconvenient Planning Strategies” by my colleague, Ricardo Nabholz, these scenarios evolved over the past decade as companies sought to increase transparency, spontaneous interaction and collaboration throughout the workplace. Conveniently, these same planning tactics also get people moving. Placing staircases in prominent locations encourages people to take the stairs; making them wide enough allows them to stop and have a chat. Dispersing support functions means people have to travel to get to copy/print rooms, pantries, cafés and bathrooms. The proliferation of laptops and wireless technologies have called traditional departmental adjacencies into question, prompting some companies to adopt an unassigned seating policy and/or provide more informal work and collaborative settings – including fixed, standing height benches - that require workers to change locations during the day. More recently, we’ve seen reports of stand-up meetings (that also save time and get people more engaged), and featured in a recent TED talk, even walking meetings.
The Choice Is Ours
Ultimately, while the workplace can indeed support healthy habits, the onus cannot be on the workplace alone. Consider that before we had email and texting, people often had to get up and go find someone to get the answers they needed. And before computers, where it’s easy to gaze and graze, it was difficult to type and eat a sandwich at the same time, so people tended to leave their stations and join colleagues for lunch. Today, it’s up to us to choose options that break our routine, even if they are less convenient. I’m reminded of childhood summers when, before central air conditioning, I spent hot days in my cool basement reading a book while my mother implored me to “put that book down and go get some sun.” Appeasing Mom, I also knew that changing it up was good for me. If Mom were here now she’d say “leave the laptop and go take a walk, think, have a conversation.” With Mom’s voice in my ear, I’ve begun to find ways to take breaks much as I did when working at home. Happily, I’ve found that not only can I still get my work done, I’ve also begun to feel more in control. I now save my Vinyansa for the weekends, but I’m delighted to say that the little changes in my work routine have started to make a dent in those 2 inches.
Originally published in The National Real Estate Investor, July 1, 2014.
To help track and engage in the daily activity that can limit the negative effects of sitting, start by finding your daily baseline with a pedometer. Whether with a pedometer, Fitbit, or even a phone app, take a 30-minute walk and see how many steps you take. This number will vary based on how quickly you walk and how large your steps are.
Next, you want to find a baseline of your daily activity. Start using the pedometer when you first wake up in the morning and keep it in your pocket, on your wrist, or running on your phone until you go to bed. This will give you an estimate of your regular daily activity. For some, this may be frighteningly low on the days without purposeful exercise.
To help meet your daily activity target, all it takes is a slight alteration to your behavior. Here are a few ideas for how to do it without really trying:
Park near the back of the parking lot.
Stand up to visit the file cabinet instead of rolling your chair.
Walk over and talk to a coworker instead of emailing them.
Take the scenic route to the bathroom instead of the most direct.
Meeting your target activity level is just the first step. The second is much simpler and only requires you stand up now and again.
You can reduce the negative effects of sitting all day just by standing up for one or two minutes every hour. Technically, you don’t even have to move, the act of standing alone helps. Since this may be difficult to remember while focused on your work, so it helps to set an hourly reminder. For Mac users, click Settings > Date & Time > Announce the time. Windows users can set up a similar hourly reminder as a task by clicking Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Task Scheduler.
If the alarm isn’t enough, you can download dedicated software to remind you. Windows users can use free programs like, Workrave or Breaker to set up automated alerts. For Macs, Time Out seems the best free option. These programs will remind you to stand and dim the desktop to force you out of your chair.
It’s up to you how you use these micro-breaks. You don’t even have to move if you don’t want to, but if you want to squeeze in a little activity, here’s a quick way to do it without leaving your desk area:
March in place for twenty seconds.
Reach down and try to touch your toes for twenty seconds.
Wander around and pick up or reorganize for the last twenty seconds (eventually your desk area may even be clean).
Remember: stand up once an hour and get at least 30 minutes of purposeful activity in a day. Those two simple choices will help counteract the negative effects of sitting.
Our bodies were simply not meant to sit all day. Sitting for long periods of time, even with exercise, has a negative effect on our health. What’s worse, many of us sit up to 15 hours a day, which means that some of us spend the bulk of our waking moments on the couch, in an office chair, or in a car. Though sitting all day isn’t hard to counteract, you have to keep your eye on two details: your daily activity and the amount of time you sit.
It is difficult to get an accurate assessment of what sitting all day will do to a person because of the various factors (like diet) that affect health. However, based on a relatively healthy person (who does not drink in excess, smoke, and who isn’t overweight) the following estimates are reflective of what sitting for over six hours a day can do to the body.
2. After a few days of sitting for more than six hours a day, your body increases plasma triglycerides (fatty molecules), LDL cholesterol (aka bad cholesterol), and insulin resistance. With a sedentary lifestyle, your muscles aren’t taking in fat and your blood sugar levels go up, putting you at risk for weight gain. After just two weeks your muscles start to atrophy and your maximum oxygen consumption drops. This makes stairs harder to climb and walks harder to take. Even if you were working out every day the deterioration starts the second you stop moving.
Though this list looks incredibly grim, there are two simple actions which can be performed to counteract the negative effects of sitting for extended periods of time:
1. Remember to stand once an hour. 2. Get about 30 minutes of activity per day.
Whether you’re a couch potato watching hours of TV at a time, or an office worker sitting in front of a computer, an Australian study suggests short breaks from sitting once an hour can alleviate most of the problems described above. This isn’t about working out (which is positive, but doesn’t completely counteract the effects of long periods of sitting alone). It’s about creating pockets of moderate activity throughout the day and giving your body a respite from sitting. Moderate activity is equivalent to a brisk walk, which would include yard work or cleaning your house — anything that gets you moving counts. Whether taken in a single 30 minute chunk or broken up throughout the day (in the recommended 10 minute intervals), these bursts of activity can help build up endurance and alleviate the strain of sitting.
Please check back for specific tips to help track and engage in the daily activity that can curb the damage of sitting.
Content originally published on Lifehacker, January 26, 2012.
As discussed in a previous post on the history of standing desks, the old practice of working at a standing height desk has begun making its way back in vogue. Though much of today’s conversations have focused on the application of desks for standing in the workplace, a buzz has begun around applications in educational settings.
A Florida school has adopted the standing desk trend by deploying adjustable height desks on castors in Melissa Irving’s fourth grade classroom. This furniture decision was motivated by the same reasons for standing in the workplace: productivity, comfort and health.
Sitting for hours in the classroom or office is completely counterproductive to learning and working. One of the many hazards of sitting for extended periods of time is the negative effect on the brain. When people are sedentary for a long time, everything slows, including brain function. On the other hand, moving muscles pumps fresh blood and oxygen through the brain, which triggers the release of both brain- and mood-enhancing chemicals. These chemical contribute to a person’s productivity and creativity.
Ms. Irving has “seen a marked change in her students ever since the desks made their [classroom] debut.” Not only have students begun to feel more alert and involved in class, but they have also experienced a new level of comfort. Students who now have the option to sit or stand no longer struggle to stay still at their desks. The same goes for people in the workplace who now have a range of options for finding a comfortable way to work.
Remember this the next time you struggle to find focus or comfort while working. Take a stand.