Will offices of the future be standing room only?

Numerous articles, reports, and studies have told us that sitting down is killing us. So will the next generation workspace be standing room only?

Research has linked sitting to many health issues – heart attacks, kidney diseases, diabetes, cancer – and there is a definite move in many workspaces to offer employees the option to take to their feet while they work. Studies suggest that workers should stand for at least two hours during the work day to help minimise the health risks of sitting all day.

A recent pilot study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health looked at the effects of high school freshman using standing desks and found that as well as minimising risks to physical health, their was an improvement in cognitive ability of up to 14 per cent.

“These findings provide the first preliminary evidence on the neurocognitive benefits of standing desks, which to date have focused largely on energy expenditure,” the authors conclude. If these results are backed up in further studies, businesses could find that installing standing desks not only improves their staff’s physical health but also improves their work.

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Virgin Media is also undertaking a study into the benefits of standing desks. Two groups of contact centre agents at the company’s Sheffield centre have volunteered to use adjustable sit-stand desks and stand for a minimum of two hours a day.

“The simple act of standing for even as little as two hours per day can increase muscle activity to have a significant impact on health and wellbeing,” explains John Buckley, professor of applied exercise science at the University of Chester, who is leading the experiment. “This unprecedented study with Virgin Media will allow us to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the benefits working on your feet can have on health and performance.”

So does this mean we should all throw out our office chairs?

Not necessarily. Research from the Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that, while every hour you sit reduces the gains of your daily workout by eight per cent, an hour of exercise will offset six to seven hours of sitting. So you can sit for most of your working day if you want to, and you won’t feel any of the negative side effects so long as you don’t continue sitting all day every day once your work is done.

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In fact, you should make the most of your desk-sitting time. It’s, arguably, better for you than standing, which is tiring, and can lead to thinks like varicose veins and pressure on the knees. The real issue, the real killer, is inactivity.

In fact, a better solution to standing desks could be sitting on the floor. One community in Okinawa, Japan, where it is their culture to sit on the floor, has one fifth the risk of colon and breast cancer and lives seven years longer than the average American. The activity required to get up 30 to 40 times a day means that they are moving more and thus reducing the risks to their health.

It’s hard to predict what studies, like the one that Virgin Media is taking part in, will discover in the future and whether someone will decide to make offices standing room only but for the moment the best advice from research appears to be to sit at your desk but keep moving regularly to minimise risks to your health.

The Virgin Media study will conclude in April 2016, we'll have more information once the results are released.

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