Is it good to alternate between sitting and standing at work?

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For me, the answer is a definite….YES!!!! 
Remaining in one position, whether sitting or standing for long periods at a time, will have negative effects on your overall health. Ergonomic height adjustable or standing desks, are available throughout South Africa. These desks give you the freedom to alternate between sitting and standing while you work.

Changing from sitting to standing will not necessarily combat the negative effects of sitting statically all day. In the same way, standing all day at work is also unhealthy. I believe that a balanced approach is needed where you combine sitting, standing and movement at work. I use this combination to keep my mind and body healthy!

My story….

I am a trained Office Ergonomic Risk Facilitator at Karo and understand the importance of ergonomics in the workplace. I have done extensive online research on sitting versus standing at work, and was quite surprised by the varied perspectives from bloggers and experts, especially as far as standing is concerned. Some maintain that standing at work is the “NEW BEST THING”, while for others it is a big “NO-NO”. These varied perspectives prompted me to write this blog to share my own personal experience. 

June 2020

In June 2020 I sustained a pinched nerve in my lower back and I was in agony for 3 months. The pain in my lower vertebrae and surrounding muscles filtered into my hips, back, buttock and legs. It was so severe that I couldn’t sit still for longer than 30 minutes without moving. Fortunately, at work I was testing an ergonomic electric height adjustable standing desk, which thankfully I got to keep. By using the desk’s programable function, a simple touch of a button allowed me to change my working position from sitting to standing.

To alleviate the pain, I began to stand more at work and also increased the amount of movement in my daily routine. With no fixed pattern, I continually alternated from sitting, to standing and walked around as soon as I felt any pain in my body. Although I had been advised to do certain exercises to stabilise my spine, I simply couldn’t do them due to the severe pain and discomfort I was experiencing. Because I knew that movement was vital to the healing process, I would take a slow walk to my colleagues situated in another building, and then back to my office. This daily routine of sitting, standing and movement (walking), drastically reduced my pain levels and enabled me to regain full fitness. To this day, I still follow the same daily routine, but have also included a series of simple office exercises to improve my overall wellbeing.

1. What are the negative effects of prolonged sitting and standing?

a. Sitting

  • Fatigue, which promotes a bad sitting posture.
  • Poor blood circulation.
  • Often results in skeletal and muscular disorders like misalignment of the spine, muscle tension in the neck, back and shoulders.
  • Poor concentration.

b. Standing

  • Causes lower limb fatigue.
  • Cramping and swelling of the legs.
  • Lower back pain.
  • Increased pressure on your knees, hips and feet.
  • Varicose veins and/or inflammation of veins.
  • Misalignment of the spine due to shifting weight onto one leg.
  • Poor concentration.

2. What are the advantages of alternating between sitting and standing?

  • Intervertebral discs are kept in a better shape.
  • Better alignment of the spine.
  • Continually changing position reduces the strain in the lower back.
  • Reduction of varicose veins.
  • Improved concentration.
  • Increased muscle activity and blood circulation.
  • Higher energy consumption (calories) as you alternate from sitting down to standing up, and vice versa.

3. What is the correct posture for sitting and standing?

When you work either standing or sitting, certain ergonomic workstation settings should be the same.

  • Your adjustable standing desk should always be at elbow height and your elbows should be bent at approximately 900.
  • When sitting your feet should be flat on the ground. Your knees should be slightly below the level of your hips.
  • When standing, one leg should be elevated. Rest the elevated leg on a footrest and frequently alternate legs to shift your body weight.
  • Adjust you monitor directly in front of you and at eye level height.
  • Ensure that your shoulders are relaxed.
  • Make sure your wrists are in a neutral position.
  • Use an adjustable ergonomic chair when you sit.
  • Use an anti-fatigue mat when you are standing.

4. Exercise and Movement

Due to the disadvantages of prolonged sitting and standing, adding simple office stretches and exercises to your day can reduce stress, increase energy, and improve your overall mood and creativity. It is important to keep your body and mind healthy by taking time to move and exercise.

5. What types of height adjustable standing desks are available in South Africa?

There are 3 basic types of standing desks available:

Standing or Sit-Stand Desk Converter

Manual Height Adjustable Desks

Electric Height Adjustable Desks

a. Standing or Sit-Stand Desk Converters

KM003 Sit Stand Workstation Desk
KM003 height adjustable standing desk converter

Standing desk converters are placed on top of your existing (fixed-height) desk. They are designed to convert a normal desk into a sit-stand desk. They can be adjusted up and down to ensure the monitor, keyboard and mouse are at your ideal standing height.

There are 2 basic options available:

  • Pneumatic or gas-assisted – The upwards height adjustment is aided by a pneumatic lift function and no manual lifting is required. However, some effort is required when lowering the standing desk converter.
  • Non-electric counterbalance option – A counterbalance weight makes it easier to change the height of the converter.
KM003 Sit/Stand Workstation Desk
KM003 height adjustable standing desk converter

Pros and Cons of standing desk converters

  • They are mobile and can easily be moved between your home and work office.
  • Inexpensive. They are the most affordable option.
  • They have a small working surface area, particularly when standing.

b. Manual height adjustable standing desks

There are 2 basic options when it comes to ergonomic manual height adjustable desks. The first uses a simple crank, and the second, a pneumatic lifter to raise and lower the desk.

crank operated height adjustable standing desk available in South Africa
Crank operated height adjustable desk
pneumatic height adjustable standing desk available in South Africa
Pneumatic lift standing desk

Crank operated standing desk

  • The crank handle requires greater effort to raise and lower the desk.
  • Slower to adjust.
  • Due to the time and effort involved in changing the height of the desk, there is a risk that it will be adjusted less frequently.
  • More affordable than gas assisted and motorised options.

Pneumatic lift standing desk

  • Pneumatic height adjustment is similar to your office chair.
  • Easier to adjust than a cranking desks.
  • No manual lifting is required due to the pneumatic powered mechanism. However, more effort is necessary to lower the desk as your body weight is required to press down on the desk.
  • More affordable than electric desks.

c. Electric standing or height adjustable desks

electric standing height adjustable desk available in South Africa
Electric height adjustable standing desk

These standing desks are freely available in South Africa. The electronic control system enables you to change the desk height within seconds at the simple touch of a button.

Pros and Cons of Electric standing desks

  • Typically you can store pre-set heights so one or more people can save their settings for both sitting and standing. For example, ladies that alternate between heels and flat shoes, or operators that take up semi sit/stand positions where sit/stand stools are being used.
  • Certain models can be operated via an App on a phone or tablet.
  • Some models have electric motors in each leg and can accommodate heavier loads. Their operation is generally smooth and quiet.
  • Models with single electric motors (one leg only) will struggle with heavier loads and tend to be noisy.
  • Convenient and easy to operate.
  • Electric standing desks are the most expensive option.
Linak® height Adjustable Desk
Linak ergonomic height adjustable desk with electric actuation

Linak® Height Adjustable Desk

  • Electronic height adjustment with preset capability.
  • Cable management system.
  • Dual motor system.
  • Click here to find out more.

6. Factors to consider when using a standing desk

If you are considering buying a standing desk in South Africa, be sure that you keep the following factors in mind:

  • Consider using a padded anti-fatigue mat when standing as it reduces strain in your legs. Some types are contoured to encourage movement.
  • Shift positions frequently and move around to avoid fatigue.
  • Use a footrest. Stand on one leg and rest your other leg on a footrest. Alternate legs regularly.
  • If your work allows, listen to music while standing as the body will naturally move to the rhythm of the music.

7. Conclusion

Based on my personal experience, to improve your overall physical and mental wellbeing, change your working position often (sitting to standing and back again), and include frequent movement in your daily work routine. 

Invest in an ergonomic height adjustable standing desk, but do your homework as there are many types available in South Africa. In my opinion, an electric height adjustable desk is definitely the answer! These desks enable you to quickly, easily and frequently change from a sitting to a standing position during your working day. This, together with regular movement, will ensure you to achieve the greatest benefit to your health and wellbeing.

Because of the effort involved in adjusting a manual standing desk, it is unlikely that you will adjust it as often, and so the overall benefit will be less. This is particularly the case with crank handle height adjustable desks.

If you have any medical condition that may not be conducive to standing or exercises, then seek the advice of your health professional.


Author: Ronel Hendry
Office Ergonomics Risk Facilitator at Karo Manufacturing (Pty) Ltd
25 Feb 2021

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