Prolonged, uninterrupted sitting is bad for your health. Sitting in one place without moving for an extended period of time, is associated with an increased risk for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Other aspects of health are also impacted. While it may sound counterintuitive, prolonged sitting can also increase symptoms of muscle pain.
“Ergonomics” is the study of how to make a workplace comfortable for employees. Researchers in this field have found prolonged sitting is associated with pain in the lower back, neck, and shoulder regions. This pain can make it difficult for workers to complete job tasks. As a result, ergonomists have researched ways to reduce muscle pain within the workplace.
Ergonomists began their research with an understanding that maintaining a single posture for a long time can lead to pain. Their research found this was also the case for sitting. Interventions which broke up sitting were an effective way to reduce muscle pain (examples 1, 2, 3).
So, how did they break up sitting? Researchers had employees stand up, stretch, or walk. For these desk-based employees, taking a few minutes to step away from their desk to stand and stretch had the added bonus of reducing eye strain and improving mood (and didn’t reduce productivity!).
Ergonomists suggest breaking up sitting every 30 minutes to reduce back pain. Coincidently, research also recommends breaking up sitting every 20-30 minutes to reduce diabetes risk. Based on these findings, the BeUpstanding™ toolkit promotes not only a reduction in total sitting, but also reducing the duration of each individual sitting period. This is also why one of our favorite phrases is, “the next posture is the best posture.”
There are a number of techniques you can do to help break up sitting. To get the full ergonomic benefit (reducing muscle pains and eye strain), you’ve got to break up sitting while also taking your eyes off the computer screen. Try a little stretching routine at your desk, or walk to a coworker’s office instead of emailing them.
Breaking up sitting with these techniques (or coming up with your own) does not have to be a pain (pun intended!). Instead, these little changes can help you improve your health and have you finishing the workday feeling fresh. Your body will thank you!
This post was written by Dr James Peterman, an Endeavour grant recipient, who is assisting with the BeUpstanding™ project.
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