Beat inactivity for healthy work: standing desk,treadmill

Author: Sergio Van Pan

Not only can we sit down, but we can also stand, walk around and even lie down around our workspace. We usually make our choice of orientation for work in terms of health benefits. But which posture provides more benefits to productivity? And which postures suit which tasks? This is Part IV of our Ideal Working Environment guide.

1) Don’t try to keep your back straight if working seated for too long.

2) Standing position is most effective during the first two hours of work.

3) Lying down is great when you have a challenging task ahead of you.

Seated work

Sitting down is a versatile posture good for unrushed work that requires structure and focus. But if you sit for a long time, the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, rises in the body, which in turn creates additional tension. This can be easily solved: simply stop trying to sit properly. As counterintuitive as it may seem, don’t keep your back straight and shoulders back, because you actually waste your energy reserves trying to do so.

From a physiological point of view, the optimal body position is a balanced posture that is comfortable and stable, without excessively overstraining individual muscle groups and joints. Usually, we intuitively choose the least straining posture. The human spine is naturally shaped like an S. So, it’s natural for us to slouch a little.

But it’s important to keep in mind that any prolonged sedentary position can lead to certain muscles being overstrained. Simple fix: change positions often. Or use QED Design’s movable ‘Headstand’ chairs. They require continuous balancing, by using back and leg muscles, to increase the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain, ultimately stimulating mental activity.

Standing work

In addition to maintaining a good blood-sugar balance, standing work has many other benefits. Research has shown that several important operations improve efficiency when working at a standing desk, including focus, executive functions, and memory. This is because, in an upright position, we are less susceptible to distractions, or distraction syndrome.

Even at maximum concentration, the brain always reserves a little background or ‘floating’ attention to passively scan the surroundings. This evolutionary instrument once helped our ancestors notice sudden threats, but now it generally just slows us down.

Beat inactivity for healthy work: standing desk, treadmills, etc

In a standing position, our weight often shifts from foot to foot, we often move our hands and body, counterintuitively occupying our ‘floating’ attention so that we can focus on the task at hand. However, these benefits are limited to two hour healthy work period after which the body begins to feel discomfort, and the brain’s response to work stimuli begins to slow. To reduce discomfort and extend the positive effects of working at a standing desk, you can use special comfort and standing desk mats for your feet.

Working on the go

There are invertebrate sea squirts that search out a secluded rock for themselves to cling to forever, before eating their own brain. And there are also jellyfish that begin life as immobile polyps, before learning to swim and growing their own nervous systems. The moral of the story: if you don’t move, you don’t need a brain.

The brain evolved from the demand for movement, to search, navigate, compute distances, maintain safety and security, as well as to remember routes and trips. The most useful type of movement for the human brain is typically walking at a normal pace. You can beat inactivity with the help of a hybrid treadmill with a standing table, otherwise known as a treadmill desk.

Beat inactivity for healthy work: standing desk, treadmills, etc

Esquire editor Arnold Jacobs stress-tested this concept while working on Drop Dead Healthy. His results consisted of 416 pages of text and almost 2,000 kilometers covered. Scientists from Stanford University confirmed that walking stimulates creativity. In addition, an upright posture helps fight procrastination. When you’re standing or walking on a treadmill, it’s more difficult to get distracted by irrelevant videos than when you’re sitting with your face buried in your hands.

The level of creativity when walking on a treadmill is higher than in a sitting position, and the effect of stimulation persists even after the person stops and sits down. The test subjects who sat down after walking displayed more new ideas than those who sat in both parts of the test.

Beat inactivity for healthy work: standing desk, treadmills, etc
The influence of walking and sitting in the pursuit of new ideas (divergent thinking) and solving problems using an algorithmic method (convergent thinking)

Working lying down

Lying down while working is the best choice when you have a challenging task ahead of you. The rest position is the most economical in terms of energy. Since the joints in the hands and feet aren’t subjected to much stress, it’s possible to redirect energy from maintaining posture to brain function.

Beat inactivity for healthy work: standing desk, treadmills, etc

In addition, relaxed muscles reduce the production of norepinephrine, an excitatory neurotransmitter that causes tension in an upright position. Another physiological advantage of lying down is that, compared to standing or sitting, lying down offers more options for changing posture. This is an additional benefit that reduces stress. There are many ergonomic devices, from mounts similar to an astronaut’s chair to special cushions that allow you to work comfortably while lying on your back, on your side, or on your stomach.