SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 13, 2013

On your feet!

Employees who stand while working say they have more energy

BY ETHAN FORMAN
STAFF WRITER

---- — Two months ago, Topsfield resident Dan White bought a $20 work stand for his laptop, propped it on his desk and became part of a growing trend.

Now he stands at work instead of sitting.

White, the director of development at Gordon College in Wenham, is one of about 10 workers there who have adapted their desks so they can work standing up. Some stand at laptops propped on a wooden box; others have desks or lecterns tall enough to do the trick. The college’s director of budget and financial planning has two screens, mounted on what looks like the robotic arm of the space shuttle, clamped firmly to his desk.

None of the modifications required the college to buy expensive, ergonomic desks designed for standing. The modifications were made by the employees themselves.

White bought his work stand online. He uses a stool sometimes but estimates that he stands 80 percent of the time.

Rather than feel fatigued, he said, he feels like he has more energy, and his chronic lower back pain is mostly gone.

Does standing at his desk make him more productive?

“Yes, it does, and I’ll tell you why. It makes me more energetic, it really does,” White said. “Just standing, everything is more flowing.”

While studies may show that inactivity is bad for you, the jury is out as to whether standing on the job is the way to go for office professionals, who normally sit hunched at computers screens all day.

Cyndi McMahon, a spokeswoman for the college, said researchers in the kinesiology department, who study human movement, don’t think there is enough evidence to say standing up at work is better or worse for you.

“When standing, the body tends to be less static due to natural sway,” the department’s faculty wrote in a statement. “This is probably helpful for circulation and burning minimal calories as you engage your musculature. If standing while working, it is important to maintain a good upright posture, not lock the knees, and wear proper footwear.”

The faculty says that static standing is not necessarily a good thing and can lead to lower back pain and sore feet.

If you find yourself in the courtroom of Superior Court Judge David Lowy, you may notice he’s usually standing up at the bench, rather than sitting down.

“I do stand at work much more than I sit,” Lowy said. “I believe it’s healthy. Your body is working harder.”

He uses a flat podium on the bench to work from while in court, and he moves around the bench during proceedings. He also has a standing desk in his chambers.

Lowy finds that when he is standing and listening to a case, he is more engaged.

“It’s not good to be still,” he said.

Nancy Anderson, Gordon College’s director of human resources, has been standing at her desk for the past two years and has been with the college for 40. In the past couple of months, she’s noticed more employees standing in their offices.

“I started standing after reading studies that came out in 2010, 2011 ... about how bad sitting was,” Anderson said, “especially for women.”

While it sounds counterintuitive, Anderson said she finds she has more energy at the end of the day, in part, she said, from her ability to move about the office more than if she were sitting. She doesn’t stand all day. She’ll sit at a desk to write.

“The point is to just sit less,” she said.

Patti Hanlon, the director of college publications, has a job that involves making Web pages, which means staring at a screen and holding a mouse. That position, she said, led to shoulder pain and visits to the chiropractor three to four times a week.

Her son built her a stand-up lectern, and she has been standing for the past four years. To get the laptop to the proper height, where her arms are parallel to the floor, she propped the computer on an album full of old 78 records.

“The key ingredient is you need to be looking straight at the screen,” Anderson said, “and your arms need to be like this, sort of at a 90-degree angle.” She got the advice from her chiropractor, and she hasn’t been back since.

Gordon officials point to the Harvard Business Review blog and an article called “Sitting is the Smoking of Our Generation,” in which author Nilofer Merchant laments how much sitting we do.

Merchant reported that most people sit for 9.3 hours a day, compared with 7.7 hours of sleeping. Studies, she said, show certain metabolic effects from inactivity, plus increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, and breast and colon cancer. Merchant came up with the idea of holding hiking meetings.

“One hundred percent, standing is better than sitting,” said Dr. Scott Kline, a Peabody chiropractor, who works for much of the day standing or kneeling on a mat as he adjusts patients.

Standing, Kline says, helps with circulation and can prevent muscle weakness in the legs and hips. Sitting, meanwhile, compresses the vertebrae in the back. Sitting also shortens your hip flexors, which can have an impact on the lower back, causing inflammation and pain. Sitting for long periods can compress your legs, causing a temporary nerve-tingling sensation — in other words, your legs can fall asleep.

Kline does not advise patients to stand at work; instead, he advises them to take standing breaks and change positions frequently.

If you do stand at work, he says, you should not stand on a hard, concrete surface without a mat to cushion the floor.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at eforman@salemnews.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.