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Taking a stand for a healthier workplace

By Dale Johnson Posted: April 20, 2016 6:00 a.m.

Dr. Katya Herman, an assistant professor in the faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, practices the benefits of standing in her office.
Dr. Katya Herman, an assistant professor in the faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, practices the benefits of standing in her office. Photo: U of R Photography.

A University of Regina professor is looking into the benefits of standing at work, instead of sitting.

“We know that even just sitting still for a few hours can immediately start to impact health variables, such as cholesterol and glucose metabolism. Long hours of sitting are also associated with increased neck and back pain,” explains Dr. Katya Herman, an assistant professor in the faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies.  

“If employee health and well-being is affected, this influences absenteeism and sick days - and overall productivity in the workplace,” says Herman, who uses a standing workstation at her office.  

Herman will be speaking at the Bushwakker Brewpub on Thursday, April 21 at 7 p.m. and the title of her presentation is “Your Chair vs. Your Health: How Sitting is Killing You.” The event is open to the public.

Dr. Paul Bruno, also with the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies, will also be at the event and will speak about the biomechanics of sitting.

Herman is evaluating the daily activity of research participants before, during and after using an adjustable sit-stand workstation – essentially an elevated desk.

Katya Herman Seated
Dr. Katya Herman recommends a combination of sitting and standing throughout the work day. Photo - U of R Photography.

Each person is evaluated over three separate one-week periods.

During the first week, participants carry out their usual activities. They have a device similar to a memory stick bandaged on their upper leg to measure when they’re standing, walking, sitting or lying down.

As well, a log sheet is kept to record when a person is sleeping, and what hours they are at work.

In the second week, a standing workstation is provided – and another device again records a person’s activities.

Then in the third week, the standing workstation is removed, and participants resume their normal activities, including sitting at their desk – and their movements are again monitored.

After gathering data from several participants, Herman will compare the results.

“We want to evaluate how faculty and staff work days differ whether using their usual desk set-up, or using an adjustable sit-stand workstation which simply sits atop their regular desk. So we're comparing sitting/movement patterns over the course of the week, and gathering perceptions of using such a desk,” she says.

The research project - a partnership between the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies and the U of R Health, Safety and Environment Unit in Human Resources - is in the early stages with detailed results expected sometime in 2017.

“Anecdotally, participants have by and large reported enjoying the adjustable workstations. Especially workers who'd previously dealt with back, neck or leg pain while sitting for long hours seem to enjoy the option to switch to a standing position once in a while,” Herman says.

“With this study, participants only have seven days trying out a sit-stand work station, so we aren't expecting any major health changes in that time. Rather we are more interested in faculty/staff response to using such a workstation, and whether and how they felt this was a benefit (or not) to their existing desk-setup and overall daily working environment,” she adds.

Herman wants to add to the research already available that indicates breaking up daily sitting time is beneficial.

“The research is accumulating that we simply spend too much time sitting down, often for hours without taking breaks, and this sedentary sitting time is negatively affecting our health. Unfortunately our desk jobs don't always allow otherwise.

Recently an expert panel published a consensus statement about the sedentary office workplace, recommending to employers the use of adjustable sit-stand workstations as one solution to the sitting problem,” she says.

NOTE: University of Regina faculty or staff members interested in being part of this research may contact Dr. Herman at katya.herman@uregina.ca to be scheduled for an assessment, which takes about 45 minutes.

EVENT:      The Science of Sitting, with Dr. Katya Herman and Dr. Paul Bruno of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies

WHEN:       7:00 p.m., Thursday April 21, 2016-04-19

WHERE:      The Bushwakker Brewpub, 2206 Dewdney Ave.