6 top tips for sit stand users from an ergonomist

As an ergonomist I get the opportunity to visit many organisations. An increasing trend in the UK over the last 3 or 4 years is the installation of sit-stand desking systems or desk top accessories either as a complete installation or a part of the furniture offering provided by the organisation.

I have yet to visit a sit-stand installation where the majority of users have a good understanding of how they can gain the maximum benefit. Usually you have the really enthusiastic users who will stand up for hours at a time for fitness and calorie burning benefits and at the other end of the spectrum you’ll have the apathetic ‘I can’t be bothered with this fad’ users.

This has worried me somewhat and has led me to write this short summary of how to gain the maximum benefit from sit-stand desking as I think a sit-stand desk used properly is an ergonomist’s dream come true. This is because a sit-stand desk used properly can contribute to healthy postural variation throughout the working day if used properly, it can also help improve wellbeing and productivity.

Variation in posture would encourage movement and activity which in turn will improve blood circulation and help pool away lactic acids within the muscles and reduce fatigue. The discs in our spine do not have a direct blood supply, one of the ways discs get nutrients is through convection caused by movement. Our bodies thrive on movement and activity. The key factor to be aware of when using a sit-stand desk is that any posture adopted for prolonged periods is problematic for the human body.

Here are my six top tips to get the most of your sit – stand desk:

1) Aim for two postural changes per hour, sit for 40 minutes and stand for 20 minutes. This will allow you to get the benefit of both postures without the negatives setting in

2) When sitting or standing ensure that the desk is at the correct height, supporting the underside of your forearms when your elbows are at right angles without elevating your shoulders

3) When sitting set your chair up to support your lower back and unlock the chair to allow healthy movement

4) Keep the top of your screen in line with your eyes, this will allow the screen to be viewed comfortably without excessive flexion or extension of your neck

5) Keep your keyboard and mouse within easy reach. You should not have to move your upper arms away from your body to use them.

6) Remember a sit stand desk doesn’t replace the benefits of walking. Stand up and walk for at least 2-3 minutes every hour. This will allow healthy blood circulation and promote nutrient transfer to the discs in your spine.

Zaheer Osman (Chartered Fellow of the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors)