Standing Desks – here to rescue us from ‘Sitting is the new Smoking’?

Standing desks, like most health technologies, should come with an engagement plan … else it might become an expensive ‘nice to have’

Although the science on the implications of endless sitting is sound, and even somewhat exaggerated in popular press, does that mean that having standing desks present the cure to sitting and being sedentary in office environments? Not so simple, but understanding behavior makes this another example of being predictably (ir)rational.

Kevin Volpp and team  call attention to this problem in the 2015 JAMA Viewpoint: Wearable Devices as Facilitators, Not Drivers, of Health Behavior Change, stating here in the context of wearables:

“Although wearable devices have the potential to facilitate health behavior change, this change might not be driven by these devices alone. Instead, the successful use and potential health benefits related to these devices depend more on the design of the engagement strategies than on the features of their technology”

Therefore don’t blame the ‘technology’ when people en mass  don’t change their habits when standing desks appear in the office – you have to incorporate practical ways to nudge and facilitate standing. This might involve personal initiative, a bit of team work and a change in corporate culture.

It turns out that pressing the ‘up’ button when you get to the office takes more mental energy than expected, but raising the desk before you leave the office is mentally less draining. Also, don’t be afraid to ask others to help … the 1st one from the team to be at the office in the morning (or post lunch), might be the perfect CDR (Chief Desk Raiser!), and in so doing making his/ her small contribution to public health!

Making standing a social norm is a big step for many companies. It involves thinking different about meetings & spaces, all focused at promoting better health and more ‘productivity’ – nobody wants to be in an unproductive standing meeting!

And remember standing is only a first step in not being sedentary. For better health benefit move more, and for good cardiovascular health aim to get the heart working! … and please don’t view standing at work as a weight loss intervention.

[Exercise under physician oversight if you’re unsure what is appropriate for your specific health status.]

Lastly, my most practical guidance on standing: many years ago I started standing (rather than sitting) at conferences. Turned out it’s the perfect intervention to prevent falling asleep in the sessions … and anybody who frequents actuarial conferences would know how important that is!

Update 4/3/2017: Additional research on sitting emphasizing it’s okay to sit, but make sure to get some activity!

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