All posts by marisasylvester

Endless Opportunities – The Many Ways to Improve Wellness at Work

In my exploration over the past several weeks, I have discovered numerous ways in which we as individuals can improve and maintain our wellness at work. Many of us have careers we love and I am grateful to be included in that group. In the various roles I have performed, I have spent the majority of my days seated, either in meetings, on calls, in front of my computer, or with domestic or international travel. Through primarily seated work, I developed some of the hallmark challenges that many of us face after hours spent working on a computer. I set out on a path to look for solutions. I love my job and the company I work for and will be able to excel at it for years to come if I am able to take care of my health and wellness at work and spend most of my work-days pain free. A summary of research presented by WebMD demonstrated correlations between extensive time seated and risks of heart disease, shortened lifespan, dementia, diabetes, deep vein thrombosis, weight gain, anxiety, varicose veins, and even certain types of cancer. My hope is to share what I learn with others so that we can all leverage the information and knowledge available to enjoy long-lasting health and wellness at work.

Frequent Breaks from Sedentary Work

Some of the topics I have explored include the challenges and health risks associated with remaining seated for long periods of time. I have looked into research on alternatives to fully seated work including standing, sit-stand, treadmill, and bike workstations. If work does not lend itself to alternate workstations, there are numerous recommendations for how to reduce the risks associated with too much sitting. One of the most effective and least costly recommendations is to take frequent breaks. I explored this option in my own work and found that taking breaks is easier in theory than in practice both from the perspective of reminders to take breaks, as well as the change in schedule that may be needed to accommodate them. I set a timer to remind me to take breaks hourly and found that several times when the timer went off throughout the day, I was in the middle of a phone call, concentrating on a task where I did not want to lose focus, or in back to back meetings without time for breaks in between. I learned that structuring meetings for greater efficiency and effectiveness could allow a few minutes in between to take short breaks and move.

Workstation Ergonomics

Taking a closer look at workstation ergonomics was a very helpful step and it takes into account nearly every aspect from desk chair and chair settings, to desk height, keyboard and monitor positions, lighting both from the room as well as the monitors, and body position and desk equipment and accessories. Ergonomic calculators are readily accessible online and you can input your height to receive recommendations for ergonomic desk setups calculated from your height. This should be adjusted for comfort as needed, and I learned that minor adjustments can make a great impact.

Posture

Seated and standing posture was a theme that kept recurring in my exploration and one that I have found has not been a simple fix. Many aspects of life and work environment can influence posture including your chair, workstation setup, activities and tasks performed, energy levels, and body awareness. Posture in turn can affect breathing, muscle pain and tension, and chronic poor posture can affect body position and structure, and overall wellness. There are numerous stretching exercises, as well as strengthening exercises that can help correct chronic poor posture. These in combination with massage therapy, increased body awareness, and a posture corrector or reminders to check in on posture throughout the day can make steady improvements in a challenging area to correct.

The Wellness Journey

Maintaining wellness at work is an ongoing process to consistently take care of physical, mental, and spiritual health inside and outside of the work environment. Since we spend so many hours of each day working, it is important to maintain wellness practices at work. This includes regular breaks incorporating movement, alternating between sitting and standing, or sitting and movement if a walking or biking workstation is an option. It encompasses an ergonomic workstation to reduce the impacts of repetitive motion and lengthy time in a single position. It also factors in mindfulness to ensure awareness of our postures and ensuring we can maintain energy and focus thorough appropriate breaks to recharge the mind and sufficient nutrition to maintain energy levels.  

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Mindfulness: An Important Factor in Wellness at Work

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is defined as a technique where one’s full awareness is focused on the thoughts, feelings, and sensations experienced in the present moment without judgement. Three further definitions based on insights published in Psychology Today include mindfulness as “letting go of taking things for granted”, “returning to the present moment”, and “the self-regulation of attention with an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance.” Ultimately, there are many definitions of mindfulness depending on what source you turn to, and they primarily focus on your attention or awareness, the present moment, and acceptance or freedom from judgement.

How Does Mindfulness Impact Wellness at Work?

Practicing mindfulness, or taking a step further and teaching how to practice mindfulness can bring positive impacts to employees and employers. Employee benefits include stress reduction and increased focus. Employer benefits include reduced burnout, increased engagement, and improved health and the corresponding reductions in health care costs.

Studies on mindfulness and the impact on employees have shown decreased stress levels while at the same time increasing qualities associated with positive organizational behavior. A 2014 randomized, controlled study of employees from The Dow Chemical Company evaluated the impact of a 7 week online mindfulness program. They found reductions in perceived stress and burnout, and increases in mindfulness, resiliency, and vigor. Another randomized study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2012 compared a control group with a group that performed a self-training including mindfulness meditation and informal daily exercises including a broad range of job types through several German cities. The study showed a reduction in emotional exhaustion and increase in job satisfaction after only 10 working days of self-training to mindfulness practices that were brief and designed to be integrated into daily work-life. Additional benefits of mindfulness and meditation which are backed by research have been summarized in Mindful.org and include enhanced self-confidence, and mindful supervisors resulting in higher employee job satisfaction and reduced emotional exhaustion.

There is strong evidence that investments from organizations into mindfulness programs for employees and/or leaders results in benefits to both employees and the organizations. Not every organization is currently investing in these programs, and it may be on the individual to explore or undertake his or her own mindfulness training and practice. If this is the case, there are several resources online that may be helpful to begin the mindfulness journey, which I will share here and will be following while continuing to search for additional resources.

Mindfulness Resources

How to Practice Mindfulness: The Ultimate Guide to Being More Mindful Throughout the Day

How to Practice Mindfulness according to mindful.org

Mindfulness Exercises from the Mayo Clinic

Five Simple Mindfulness Practices for People Who Hate to Meditate from Forbes

Constructive Rest Audio Guide from NYPosturePolice

Image by Ralf Kunze from Pixabay

Pain Pain Go Away – I Have A Massage Today

Before undertaking this exploration into workplace wellness, and deciding to take ownership and action, regular massage was probably the only thing I was doing right for my health. There were times when I doubt I could have made it through another work week without the pain reduction and relaxation that came from massage. I am only one example, however, and additional information is essential for us to understand the benefits of massage, and the role it plays in wellness at work.

A video from Cleveland Clinic describes the stress relief, relaxation, and pain relief that massage can provide for people with neck and shoulder pain. This neck and shoulder pain may be related to seated posture in front of a computer, driving, or other activities that pull our upper bodies forward. Dr. Brent Bauer from Mayo Clinic shared similar views. The primary benefit is stress reduction, followed by pain reduction. As stress can suppress the immune system and reduce wound healing, anything they can do to reduce stress is helpful. Dr. Bauer explained that in numerous studies, the Mayo Clinic researchers have compared standard therapy with massage and almost all of the studies show reduction in stress, anxiety, and muscle tension. In the past couple of decades, the thousands of studies on massage have provided a body of evidence which supports massage as an important component of patient care in appropriate patients and conditions including back pain, fibromyalgia, stress, and anxiety.

According to information shared on the Mayo Clinic website, massage is an effective treatment for muscle tension, pain, and stress relief. There is evidence that massage may also be helpful for numerous additional conditions although further studies would be needed for confirmation. Risks may outweigh the benefits for certain patient populations including those with bleeding disorders, deep vein thrombosis, burns, healing wounds, fractures, severe osteoporosis, severe thrombocytopenia, or those taking blood thinners.

Most serious problems from massage come from the use of too much pressure. It is recommended that you let the therapist know immediately if the massage is uncomfortable, feels like too much pressure, or is painful. From my own experience, most therapists can easily adjust to lighter or deeper pressure when requested and would prefer you enjoy and benefit from your massage than suffer in silence and risk bruises or worse. If the therapist reacts poorly to a request to reduce pressure, or does not follow the request, this is not the right therapist for you and making repeated requests to lighten pressure or stopping the massage entirely are options for all of us. I have not had to request lighter pressure more than twice and have not yet needed to stop a massage. I know I would do so if I were in pain. Massage therapy is a wonderful treatment for pain relief, and I doubt any of us are looking for a new source of pain.

Dr. Mark Hyman Rappaport from Emory University shares some details around biological impacts of massage. His findings came from comparing people who received one massage a week for five weeks to those who received two massages a week for five weeks compared to a control group. They found immune system gains from weekly massage that were additive from the first massage. These immune system gains were not sustained with twice-weekly massages but resulted in even greater increases in oxytocin (associated with feeling good and bonding with others) and decreases in arginine vasopressin (“aggressive-related hormone”) and cortisol (stress hormone).  

What does this mean? Get a massage once a week and you strengthen your immune system. Although the twice a week massages lose some of the immune system gains of the once-a-weekers, they are happier, get along with others better and are less stressed. I can’t help but ask if anyone is surprised by this result? If I could get massages twice a week on an ongoing basis, you can bet I would be happy and fun to be around. My take-home message is that I would sign up for this study in a heartbeat if you could guarantee I would not end up in the control group. A massage every week would be wonderful, two would be even better, and for the sake of science, I would even sign up for a new group that received daily massages.

Massage has clear benefits for many of us who struggle with our posture, spend large amounts of time seated or stationary, have neck, shoulder, or back pain, or struggle with stress or anxiety. There are health risks for certain individuals and populations, and as with any new treatment, we should consult with a physician before beginning massage therapy to ensure the treatment is appropriate and safe for our individual situations.

Image by Mariolh from Pixabay

Break out the tape measure – Minor workstation tweaks with a major impact on comfort

After making workstation improvements with the help of an ergonomic consultation, I spent time researching and exploring additional workstation tweaks and improvements I could make. I learned that there is value in us taking responsibility for our own health and wellness and continuing to improve our work environments on an ongoing basis. This is valuable for our wellbeing and to be our happiest and most productive selves in our work environments as well.

Measuring Workstation Height and Monitor Distance

Breaking out the measuring tape for fine tuning my sitting and standing workstation was enlightening and helped make more precise adjustments. Desk height is fairly easy to set without measuring tape. This is great news for workstations which will alternate between sitting and standing that do not have settings. When I measured my sitting and standing desk heights based on 90 degree angles at my elbows to keep my wrists in neutral positions, I was almost exactly at the recommended heights from the ergonomic calculator I was using.

The monitor distance is harder to gauge, and with a dual monitor setup, I needed to move both monitors several inches closer to be within the recommended 20”- 30” range.

Pictures Help Visualize Potential Issues

If you can have a coworker or friend take pictures of you while you are in your workstation from a few different angles, it is easier to see what aspects of the workstation may need adjusting. How is your posture? Are your arms resting on your armrests with elbows at 90 degree angles? Are your elbows close to your sides? Is your wrist in a neutral position? Are your feet flat on the ground with your legs at 90 degree angles? Is your monitor at or just below eye level and tilted away from you at the top at a 10 to 20 degree angle? I was able to make minor adjustments by seeing my body position while seated and standing at my workstation to help ensure proper alignment.

Keyboard and Mouse Adjustments

On the recommendation of a physical therapist, I explored alternatives to my current mouse and keyboard. I tried an ergonomic keyboard with the keyboard essentially split in half so that each hand can angle outward slightly. I found that the keys, particularly the space bar, required too much force to press easily. I spend a large amount of time typing and need to be able to type comfortably, quickly, and accurately. My officemate, who is stronger than I am, liked the keyboard and replaced his with that one.

A significant amount of trial and error taught me that seemingly small adjustments in the height of my keyboard made a large difference in the position of my wrists, and the pain that I was experiencing. The ideal is to keep wrists in a neutral position while working. Even slightly high or low heights of keyboards can cause wrists to angle and move out of a neutral position while typing. In order to prevent this, careful adjustment of chair or desk/keyboard height can be performed to ensure that the keyboard location allows wrists to remain in a neutral position and not angle up or down. I found when my keyboard was too low, I would have to angle my wrists up to type which put additional strain on my wrists.

I tried a keyboard with a trackpad on the right-hand side, and found that using the trackpad instead of a mouse did not resolve the wrist pain. When I paid close attention to the movements my right hand was making, I was lifting my wrist and angling it outward to use the trackpad. The mouse and keyboard I am currently working with have seemed to resolve my wrist issues. I selected a keyboard with a low profile so that my wrists do not need to be raised to type. I tried more creative mouse options and eventually settled on a handheld mouse with a trackball. This may not be a common choice but seemed to solve my issue of wrist pain because my wrist no longer needs to move when using my mouse.

After the adjustments made during my ergonomic consult, I felt more comfortable in my workstation, but this did not alleviate all my neck, shoulder, and back pain, and the wrist was still giving me trouble. Although it struck me as a pain in the neck to break out the tape measure and modify my workstation to fit ergonomic recommendations, the opposite was true. It helped relieve the pain in my neck.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Tips for Ergonomic Workstation Adjustments

I have been delving into the wealth of information available to us to discover how to maintain wellness, or in some cases, alleviate pain and restore health from seated professions. I even requested help in setting up a more ergonomic workstation since I was having neck, shoulder, and lower back pain, pain in my right wrist, and frequent headaches. I picked up several tips from that ergonomic consult, and will share those with you here.

Tips for ergonomic workstation adjustments:

Desk height

We adjusted my desk height so that my arms were able to reach my keyboard at a 90 degree angle from both seated and standing positions.

Chair adjustments

The chair was adjusted so that my feet were flat on the ground with legs at a 90 degree angle. The arm rests were adjusted to a height which allowed my forearms to rest without raising my shoulders, and they were close enough to my body that my upper arms were along my sides rather than elbows extended away from my body.

Monitor distance

Since I tend to lean toward my monitor, she suggested that my monitor should move forward on my desk to encourage me to sit back in my chair rather than lean forward. I am not certain how effective this was for me since I still found myself leaning toward the monitor and lost some valuable desk real estate in the process.

Lighting

My desk faced a window and enjoying natural light, the office blinds were open so that I was able to see outdoors. She asked if I had frequent headaches, and when I said yes, she suggested that I direct the blinds upward to reduce the brightness when looking at my monitors. Lighting had a bigger impact on wellness than I realized and is an area where many of us have little control. I had two coworkers who worked with their office lights off because the overhead fluorescent lights gave them headaches. With a window office this is an easy practice, but when they were in an interior office, the mood felt more conducive to napping.

Ergonomic Keyboard

An ergonomic keyboard was recommended to me, which I ordered and tested out. The recommended keyboard was raised in the center and angled downward on the sides so that each hand angles slightly, and maintains the wrists in a neutral position. The effectiveness of such a keyboard seems to depend on the preference of individual users. I found that the keys, particularly the space bar, required too much force to press them, and it negatively impacted my comfort and ability to type quickly and accurately. My coworker, who is significantly stronger than I am, liked the keyboard and replaced his with that one.

Anti-Fatigue Mat

A mat to alleviate pressure while I work in a standing position was also recommended, and I ordered and tested the suggested anti-fatigue mat. It was large, heavy, and had a bumpy surface of approximately 1” diameter raised hemispheres. This mat may be very effective for some users, but for my purposes, it was not compatible with a desk chair so I needed to move it out of the way while sitting at my desk and return it when standing. It was large and heavy so moving it was cumbersome and there was not a reasonable location to store it while not in use. The textured surface was also fine if I wore trail running shoes or hiking boots, which happened never. It was not ideal under most of the professional shoes I arrived in on a daily basis.

There are numerous anti-fatigue mat options available in stores and online, and a review in Wirecutter provides recommendations based on the models they tested out. What worked best for me was recommended by my physical therapist, and was actually a thick, lightweight, balance pad. The ideal standing pad is the one that meets the needs of each person’s individual preferences and workstation setup, and there does not seem to be a one size fits all solution.

After the adjustments made during my ergonomic consult, I felt more comfortable in my workstation. I still had some research and exploration to complete on my own to identify an appropriate keyboard and standing pad that suited my needs. I have found that taking advantage of the most current information and knowledge allows us to continue to improve our work environments on an ongoing basis.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Posture Corrector – An effective and constant reminder not to slouch

Early Monday afternoon I felt tension in my neck and realized that I was again leaned forward over my desk with my head angled toward the computer screen. I switched to a standing posture and decided it was time to test out my new posture corrector. Clearly checking in with myself on posture was not getting me through even the first day of the work week. I had recently purchased a posture corrector on Amazon and I did not make it 5 minutes before the straps were digging into the area under my arms. Fortunately, this posture corrector came with pads that I could cover the straps with, so after adding the strap covers, I put the corrector back on. The Velcro strap covers are neoprene, like most of the material in this posture corrector, so they provide quite a bit of cushion and resolved the discomfort of straps digging in.

I noticed a couple of differences immediately. The corrector is far less comfortable in a poor posture. If I let my shoulders roll forward, the straps are uncomfortable on the front of my shoulders. If I try to reach my arms forward, rather that have them at a 90 degree angle, my movement is restricted. This was helpful because it immediately prompted me to correct the position of my keyboard, which was pushed back on my desk surface, rather near the edge of my desk where it belongs.

Having a friend take pictures of you while sitting or standing at your workstation can give you a sense of how your posture looks while you work. This was helpful for me to see the difference in my posture with and without the posture corrector. I was surprised at how differently I was positioned with a posture corrector than when I try to sit or stand without one. My shoulders feel pulled back, more so than when trying to sit or stand with correct posture. Pulling the shoulders back help remind me to keep my head upright rather than pitched forward which I believe is the greatest benefit of all.

The posture corrector made me notice actions and movements that result in poor posture which I had not realized. Because of this, the constant reminder was more helpful to me than setting a timer or relying on my own notice to alert me to posture issues.  Some examples include looking down at my cell phone to make or receive calls, or send messages. The first day, I began to feel tired after wearing the posture corrector for only 10 minutes, I took it off for an hour or so, and wore it again for a little over 20 minutes the next time. It is probably a good indication of how poor my posture is to begin with that standing in a correct posture tired me out after 10 minutes. Amusingly enough, after such a short time, my neck felt more relaxed since my head was no longer pitched forward toward my computer monitor. It was not comfortable, but I do not believe it is meant to be comfortable. It seems that the intention of a posture corrector is to make us noticeably less comfortable when our posture slips, and this corrector was effective in doing just that.

Image by Renata Hille from Pixabay

Quick Transitions for Sit-Stand Workstations – Maintain Productivity and Increase Wellness

When my friend was training for an ironman, she focused a fair amount on shortening the time it took her to transition between swimming, biking, and running. Your transition time can make a major difference is your overall race time, and shorter transition times during your work day can have a major impact on productivity. In particular, when we talk about sit-stand workstations and transitioning between sitting and standing throughout the day, your transition time may not only impact your focus, concentration, and productivity, but it may also impact your willingness to take advantage of the benefits of your workstation.

Let’s face it, if your transition time takes so long that you do not feel you can easily fit it in frequently throughout the day, you are not likely to bother transitioning. To reap the health benefits of a sit-stand workstation, you must be willing to transition between the two frequently, and the best way to ensure your willingness to do so is to make the transition as easy and fast as possible. I started alternating between sitting and standing during the work day and have found that it had a tremendously positive impact to my health in terms of pain reduction.

I have been using three simple tools to transition quickly between a seated position and standing position:

Motorized desk – I have only worked with desks that have motorized controls which allow me to raise or lower the desk with a push of a button. If others have worked with manually adjustable desks, please share your thoughts on the speed, ease, and noise associated with their adjustment by leaving a comment. Motorized desks vary in terms of the noise of the motor, how high or low they can adjust to, and whether they allow you to save height settings or not, among other features. In terms of shortening transition times, the pre-set adjustment can be faster because you simply push the button to adjust and while the desk is moving to the set height, you can be moving your chair into place or out of the way. The self adjustment is nearly as fast, and I have found it easy to determine a correct height based on a 90 degree angle of my arms and comfort.

Rolling chair and space to move quickly out of and back into position – Rolling a chair around is the easiest and fastest part of the process unless you have nowhere to put it, or you put it in a location that regularly interferes with access to your files, trash can, etc. Having a designated, close, and out of the way location to place your chair while you stand at your desk is a time-saver every time you transition and removes the frustration of having a chair in your way while you are working in a standing position.

A light-weight floor pad – I have tried a few different ergonomic standing pads and had challenges with each until I tried one suggested to me by my physical therapist. The first was heavy, large, and had numerous bumps along the surface. The pad was too heavy and large to easily move around, and the bumpy surface was not at all compatible with an office chair for when I was not standing. The second was not bumpy but again was heavy, large, and did not work well with an office chair. I now use a lightweight and much thicker pad that is quick and easy to move out of the way and prop against the leg of my desk, or I can use it as a foot rest in front of my office chair. The pad I use is called a balance pad, and there are numerous manufacturers that produce them. I will caution that the pad that I use has a much smaller footprint than most of the ergonomic pads that are used in workplaces for positions that stand most of the day. I remain stationary while I type and work on the computer so I do not need a lot of room to move on the pad. If balance is a concern, however, a larger footprint and a thinner pad that is not designed to help improve balance would be more ideal.

One of the challenges with a sit-stand workstation is that it can be distracting, time consuming, or difficult to transition between sitting and standing. The longer it takes to transition, the more your focus is removed from the work at hand, and it may be more challenging to reengage in your task. I have found that incorporating a motorized desk, having a designated location for a rolling chair, and using a lightweight easily moved and stored floor pad has resulted in rapid transitions that enable me to maintain focus and productivity and I change positions throughout the day. I have also found that transitions based on how my body feels has been a very effective means of selecting timing. This is because as soon as I feel tired or notice discomfort, my concentration is already impacted. The sooner I can transition to a more comfortable position, the faster I can refocus and regain productivity, while addressing the issue that broke concentration in the first place.

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay 

Hello Sit-Stand Workstation – Goodbye Back Pain

I started this blog a few weeks ago and since then have spent a fair amount of time researching impacts of seated work and recommendations for improving health and wellness at work. I have considered several options to determine what my next step should be in addition to trying (moderately successfully) to take more breaks and move more through my work day. My step count on the Fitbit that sits on my wrist mocking me day in and day out has hovered at an embarrassingly low number that I will not be sharing in this blog.

After weeks of research I have an increasing awareness of the health risks associated with constant sitting, different set of health risks associated with constant standing, and numerous suggestions for improving health and wellness at work. We can adjust our workstations to be as ergonomic as possible, we can take more breaks, move more, perform stretches, exercises, increase mindfulness particularly around posture which can compound the issue, and then we can alter our workstations entirely. We can convert to sit-stand workstations, we can add a treadmill to a standing or sit-stand workstation, we can use a cycling desk, and there are pros and cons of each. Ultimately, we each need to decide which modification or combination of modifications will work with us as individuals and is compatible with the type of work we perform, our work environments, budget and space constraints.

I was surprised that since starting this blog, despite adjusting my desk setup to incorporate workstation ergonomics, checking in and adjusting my posture, incorporating breaks and moving a bit more, I had continually increasing lower back pain. This lower back pain caused me more and more concern until last week when I struggled to make it through my work days and would turn in early in the hopes that lying in bed would alleviate the pain enough to make it through the next day.

This week my lower back pain is gone and I have my sit-stand desk and frequent transitions between sitting and standing to thank. Actually, if I am being completely honest, I started writing this blog seated and transitioned to standing at the beginning of this paragraph when I noticed the first signs of discomfort. As I write this, I am only mid-way into the work week after a long weekend. I had a nice break from frequent sitting and then started alternating between sitting and standing two days ago. I am shocked at how quickly my back pain has disappeared and only wish I had moved from a seated to a sit-stand setup sooner.

There is information on how long we should stand versus sit, and I have not explored that area enough to understand the basis of the recommendations and how reliable they are. Thus far, the frequency of transition has been easy for me. I generally stand as soon as I notice any discomfort in my chair or a need to move, and I sit back down when I feel tired from standing or an urge to rest. The transitions themselves are short breaks as I wheel my chair out of the way or back into position and change the height of my desk through the motorized up/down buttons. The beauty of standing is that I can take a few steps away from my desk as I am on a conference call (I wear a wireless headset), or if I am trying to gather my thoughts for a task I am working on. It naturally incorporates movement that I would never think to incorporate from a seated position. Even now it strikes me as odd to stand up from a chair, walk five to ten steps in the area around my desk, and sit down again.

I have nearly doubled my typical step count, giving the Fitbit far less opportunity to mock me, and have found that I am able to notice and maintain better posture when I alternate between sitting and standing. With only two pain-free days under my belt, it is difficult to have confidence that I have found the cure-all for the sedentary job. There are reports that the use of sit-stand workstations wane after time, so I will plan to report back periodically on how the sit-stand work life pans out after weeks and months in and out of the saddle.

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay 

Sit, Stand, and Walk. Pros and Cons of Under-Desk Treadmills for Sit-Stand Workstations

If you are like me and considering taking the plunge and investing in a treadmill desk, but do not want to go all-in on workstation conversion, then a portable treadmill may be the way to go. These treadmills can fit under an existing sit-stand workstation, or standing workstation, and are portable enough to move so that you can relatively quickly transition to sitting or standing at your workstation.

There are numerous options available for purchase, although unlike ergonomic chairs, finding locations to test out and compare numerous types in person is not an option easily found. I was also not able to locate a source that compiled information for the full price range of available options to quickly and easily compare, so I have begun to create one here. Some manufacturers offer several different models with various features and price points so I selected a mid-range model to focus on and tried to mention other options and the differences between them as well. I am using this information to make my own purchase decision and am thus not making any personal recommendations nor do I have any financial interest in any manufacturer over another. Current prices are listed with the links to purchase online where I had the information.

Conquer Under Desk Portable Electric Treadmill

$299.00 at Roadbikeoutlet.com or Amazon.com MSRP$699.95 

PROS:

  • Lowest cost model I found that is described for use under a desk
  • Remote Control
  • Stores upright
  • Compact (footprint measures 54″ long, 23″ wide and 5.5″ high)
  • Speed range is 0.6-3.7 MPH (1.0-6.0 KM/H)
  • Lightweight (64 lbs)

CONS:

  • Run time is only 90-120 mins with no warning of automatic shut-off
  • Display is under desk so not easily visible
  • Small walking surface (16” wide by 41.5” long)
  • Low powered motor (110 V, 1.5 CHP)
  • Max user weight 198 lbs
  • May be one of the noisier under-desk models (loud beeps when machine is turned on and treadmill noise may be audible through the phone)

4.3 out of 5 stars with 28 reviews on Amazon.com with some complaints of noise, automatic shut-off after 90-120 mins, and many users purchased as exercise treadmill rather than work treadmill.

10 reviews at RoadBikeOutlet.com. General feedback positive, runs well, runs quietly, easy to control speed through remote, easy to lift, store, and lock in place in vertical position.

VersaDesk ULTRA-THIN OFFICE TREADMILL

Listed at $479.00 MSRP$699.00

PROS:

  • One of the lowest cost models available
  • Remote Control
  • Stores upright
  • Compact

CONS:

  • Display is not visible under desk
  • Very small walking surface (14.4” wide by 40” long)
  • Auto-Accelerate and Decelerate Feature changes speed based on where you walk – difficult to manage while focusing on work and wanting to maintain a specific distance from the computer monitor and keyboard
  • Low powered motor (0.74 HP brush motor)
  • Max load 200 lbs

There are no reviews at VersaDesk website, and very limited information about the product itself so I ventured further to see what others have reported.

Workwhilewalking.com provides a scathing though hilarious review that makes us pause and consider if this lower priced option is worth the risk. The one and only pro listed was “Cheap. At least cheap to buy. Very expensive to return.” The laundry list of cons included numerous safety issues involving the treadmill being underpowered, tiny walking belt, user weight rating of 200 lbs, display readout located under the desk, and “intelligent speed control” determined by your location on the belt which prevents keeping a consistent distance from your desk making computer work nearly impossible.

The Gadgeteer provided a more moderate review and liked the compactness, relative portability, and vertical storage if attached to a wall. Suggested improvements included safety concerns which align with issues pointed out by the workwhilewalking review.

Excellent information on the three available models of LifeSpan under desk treadmills, the iMovR ThermoTread GT Desk Treadmill, and RebelDesk Rebel 1000 Under Desk Treadmill are provided in the Best Under Desk Treadmills Review 2019 by Review Guru.  I will not repeat this information here, and will simply share comparative information on the three LifeSpan Models to help clarify differences.

LifeSpan TR800-DT3 Under Desk Treadmill $749.99 MSRP $799.99

LifeSpan TR1200-DT3 Under Desk Treadmill MSRP $999.00

LifeSpan TR5000-DT3 Under Desk Treadmill MSRP $1499.00

See Treadmill Desk Comparison Chart below for Key Differences Between Models. Key differences are the motor horsepower, user weight limit, dimensions, and recommended daily use limits.

Images are for the LifeSpan TR1200-DT3 Under Desk Treadmill

General trade-offs between lower cost and top of the line under-desk treadmills appear to be motor power, shock absorption, activity tracking features, portability, and noise levels. Depending on individual needs, preferences, and work environment, different models may be more or less ideal for different individuals. On the lower cost end, treadmills seem to be generally more noisy, lighter weight machines and user weight limits, more compact, potentially less durable or able to be damaged in shipment, reduced tracking and use features, reduced continuous use timeframes, absence of shock absorption, and remote control with vertical storage options. At the higher end, increased power, durability, and shock absorption also seem to translate to far quieter operation, higher user weight limits, improved activity tracking features, user control consoles, and longer or continuous run time options.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

If Sitting is Bad, Should I Stand, Walk, or Cycle My Way Through the Work Day?

The risks associated with remaining seated for extended periods of time has led to recommendations to move more frequently and the increased popularity of standing, treadmill and cycling workstations. Performing research online to determine which of these types of workstations is most beneficial or suitable can lead to more advertisements that objective information and it can become hard to separate fact from fiction, or in many cases, science from marketing and opinion. With so much information available to us today, it can be nice to take a step back and see what the scientific literature tells us about these types of workstations. A recent review, Health and productivity at work: which active workstation for which benefits: a systematic review, set out to evaluate what benefits were associated with each of these three types of workstations. Using that understanding, we can then select the most appropriate workstation based on our individual preferences and needs, type of work we perform, and our work environment.

Searches were performed across Central, Embase, PubMed and Web of Science databases, and the search terms selected returned 1352 articles. 274 of these studied active workstations, and only 12 met all of the inclusion criteria specified in the systematic review. Of these 12 articles, some reported information in each of the areas the authors were evaluating, musculoskeletal activity, physiological activity, work performance, and psychobiological. Physiological evaluations included changes to mean heart rate, blood pressure, energy expenditure, perceived exertion and pain tolerance. Work performance outcomes were separated into perceived work performance, actual performance tasks, processing speed tasks, attention and short memory. Outcomes for musculoskeletal activity and psychobiological were each only reported from a single study. For more detailed information on these areas, reviewing the original studies would be most useful, and an additional literature search may be worthwhile. It is interesting to note that although sitting workstations were evaluated in some of the studies, they were outside of the scope of this review and thus outcomes from sitting workstations were not reported.

My primary consideration in choosing a type of workstation would be impacts to work performance, and in this area I am more interested in actual work performance rather than perceived. It is not helpful for me to believe I am amazingly productive at my new workstation if I am not actually accomplishing anything. This is because I will only be able to continue use of a workstation if I can maintain or improve my work performance while using it. As this would likely be true for many of us, this area may be of the most interest to you as well. Results for actual performance tasks showed a reduction in typing speed for treadmill and cycling workstations as compared to standing. One of three studies showed a reduction in typing accuracy for cycling compared to standing. Mouse pointing speed and accuracy were reported to be reduced for treadmill and cycling compared to standing. One study also showed a reduction in mouse pointing performance with treadmill compared to cycling. Speed and reaction time to accomplish a simple task were evaluated and showed slower speed for treadmill and standing compared to cycling. Cycling also showed faster reaction time compared to standing.

Overall summaries for each type of workstation are presented in the review and demonstrate the advantages and disadvantages of each based on the 12 included studies.

Cycling stations demonstrated evidence of increased energy expenditure and heart rate, decreased blood pressure, increased alertness and reduced boredom, two outcomes associated with well-being and productivity at work. No reductions to work productivity were reported compared to standing or treadmill stations.

Treadmill stations report increased energy expenditure, heart rate, and decreased blood pressure at faster speeds with the trade off of increased perceived exertion that may inhibit work performance. With treadmills, psychological benefits of increased alertness, reduced boredom, reduction in task stress and increase in satisfaction were reported. Work performance in terms of typing speed and mouse pointing speed and accuracy were reduced. Faster speeds were associated with greater muscle activity in upper limbs which prompted the authors to suggest that further study is warranted to ensure safety.

Standing workstations are not associated with reduced efficiency with computer work or perceived exertion. They were further discussed in this review as compared to seated stations which is not consistent with the discussions of either treadmill or cycling, as the seated station comparisons from the included studies was purposely excluded from the results section. The authors reference studies which support that standing stations reduce time seated at work, and thus improve blood pressure, inhibit lumbar flexion which is associated with low back pain, and do not impact productivity.

The data provided by this systematic review help us understand what has been demonstrated in the scientific literature as benefits and challenges when we compare standing, treadmill, and cycling workstations. The limited number of studies included, some with small sample sizes, and short-term outcome measures would indicate that larger randomized controlled trials with longer follow-up periods would be needed to confirm these findings and support definitive conclusions.

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay