5 Must Have’s to Maximize the Health Benefits of Your Sit-Stand Desk

Sit-stand desks can provide tremendous health benefits when they are used properly. Studies from both ergonomics and medical journals support the many health claims, but without proper training and guidance, the benefits are hard to attain. Sadly, most sit-stands go unused or worse, are used incorrectly leading to dissatisfaction or possibly even injury.

To prevent that from happening to you, consider these must-have features to get the maximum health benefit from a sit-stand:

1) Your Sit-Stand Desk Should Encourage Frequent Transition 

Many of the reported health benefits of sit-stand desks come from frequent posture change. An adjustable height desk should facilitate the ability to go up and down as many times as you want during your workday while still supporting your productivity. It has been suggested by Dr’s Hedge and Vernikos that 30-35 transitions per day is ideal. While mechanical sit-stand desks can transition rapidly, they can sometimes be heavy when burdened with monitors, risers, and various office accessories. Some require potentially harmful postures and back-muscle engagement to raise and lower the device. An effective electric solution will transition between sit and stand in about 10 seconds with no risk of straining one’s back, shoulders or neck.

Several aftermarket phone apps or computer programs encourage transition through reminders. Software nudges have been shown to increase transition rates and overall usage. The LifeDesk brand of sit-stand desks includes a position sensor and StanData’s app (smartphone or browser-based) standard with every desk to encourage proper usage and provide transition reminders.

2) Make sure it can reach the proper ergonomic heights for your stature (and for everyone that is going to use it)

Identify the correct heights for your sitting posture and standing posture. If you are sharing your desk with your spouse or child, consider their anatomical needs as well. There are calculators online that predict your correct ergonomic desk heights based on your stature. Many factors can affect the actual settings versus the predicted, including your leg length, torso height, presence of a keyboard tray, use of a mat, shoes, typing ability etc. Ultimately your comfort level in both sitting & standing dictates the correct height for you. Look for shoulders to be relaxed when your hands are on the keyboard, typically the angle at your elbows will be somewhere between 90 to 100 degrees.

Less expensive desks will have shorter ranges, both on the low and high ends, 26.5” – 46” for example. ANSI-BIFMA, the certifying body of the furniture industry recommends a desk range of 22.7” – 48.5” to accommodate 90% of the adult population. A young child can typically stand at this low range, but their feet may dangle when seated on a kid’s chair at a 23” high desk.

3) Digital Display of Height with Programmability

A programmable digital display of the desk’s height typically adds about $50 to the price of your adjustable height desk over a simple up/down switch, but displaying the desk’s height ensures you are in the correct position (see item #2) and provides a repeatable reference for future positioning. A programmable switch can also be used to store your sit and stand positions, and sometimes the buttons can be optimized for simple one touch functionality (as opposed to press-and-hold) for easier transitions (see item #1).

4) 30” Deep Top with an Ergonomic Front Edge

The ergonomic rule of thumb has typically been to sit about “arms-length away” from your monitor for best viewing for normal-sighted individuals. These days with the advent of larger monitors (27-32” being the norm), the monitor distance rule has been modified slightly to “sit a distance away the equivalent of your monitor size.” In other words, if you are using a 32” monitor, you should sit about 32” away from it for best viewing and to minimize eye strain.

Consider a 30” deep top to accommodate the larger monitor on a rectangular worksurface. If working on an “L-shape”, place the monitors further into the corner to achieve the needed depth.

As a side note, an ergonomic front edge that tapers down to the user is a nice feature to prevent resting of the wrists on a sharp desk edge. Theoretically you should have the desk positioned low enough such that your wrists can hover over the keyboard without resting on an edge, but realizing that posture can be fatiguing over time, it’s good to prevent wrist compression should you end up resting.

5) Two Accessories:  Monitor Arm and a Standing Mat

While not essential, these two accessories make life easier. A recent study showed that proper monitor height varies 1.5-2” between sitting and standing postures. A monitor arm makes this slight but effective adjustment easily doable. A monitor arm also allows the user to the depth of the monitor as the day wears on. Our eye muscles are susceptible to fatigue like any other muscle, and as they tire the focal length can change. Bringing the monitor closer helps prevent the typical forward hunch (aka turtling) we see in the afternoon.

A standing mat makes your standing times easier on the joints, especially on hard floors. Mat cushiness help stimulate blood flow by encouraging subtle muscle contractions in the lower leg to maintain balance and stability. Some have special geometries to facilitate stretching of the arch and calf and/or massage of the sole. Look for a mat that can be easily moved without having to bend down so that the chair can be easily positioned when transitioning to sitting.

For comments, questions or ergonomic advice, contact the author at dbernardi@summitergo.com

About the Author:  David Bernardi has a master’s degree in bio-engineering and is currently an ergonomic consultant and president of Summit Ergonomics in Manchester NH.

This post originally appeared on thelifedesk.com

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