Workstation Woes

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The Centralized Telemetry Monitoring Unit at St. John Medical Center uses standing desks to decrease the health risks of sitting for a 12-hour shift. Photo by Natalie Green.
The Centralized Telemetry Monitoring Unit at St. John Medical Center uses standing desks to decrease the health risks of sitting for a 12-hour shift. Photo by Natalie Green.

Tied to a desk all day? Then you’re one of the millions of Americans who are – and it’s not necessarily a good thing.

“Studies have shown that prolonged sitting time increases mortality, as well as our risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain cancers,” says Dr. Rebecca Thrun, an internal medicine physician with St. John Clinic in Tulsa. “Short term, the inactivity can lead to physical deconditioning and weight gain, as well as aches and pains related to poor posture.”

These are serious consequences for days spent in a cubicle. To help combat these negative health effects, individuals and organizations are trading in traditional desks for standing desks – a growing trend with a growing market of products.

Melanie Trask is a registered nurse and clinical lead for the Centralized Telemetry Monitoring Unit at St. John Medical Center. The telemetry monitoring area is a centralized location within the hospital which closely monitors patients’ heart rhythms.

“St. John installed standing desks in the central telemetry department for the monitor technicians to provide a healthy work environment,” Trask says. “Monitor technicians at traditional desks spend most of a 12-hour shift in a seated position. This is not only tiring, but also causes back, neck, wrist and leg pain. The standing desk allows alternation between standing and sitting as well as customized table height for each individual. When I have the opportunity to act as a monitor technician, I try to alternate standing and sitting every hour or so.”

She adds that she may stand between three to five hours during a shift and that she especially enjoys being able to place the monitor at eye level to prevent neck strain.

“My favorite thing to do with the standing table is to adjust the table to elbow height, lean lightly on it and watch the monitor screens,” says Trask. “The only negative is you will love the standing table and will want to take it home. I know I do.”

Thrun comments that while standing desks take away prolonged sitting time and potentially the related detrimental side effects, studies aren’t currently available to help identify the ideal balance between sitting and standing – but decreasing sitting time in general is a good place to start.

If a vertical workstation isn’t for you, Thrun offers the following advice.

“Taking intermittent breaks to walk or stretch would be a great way to break up sitting time,” she says. “If it is difficult to get away from the desk, arm and leg stretches or exercises can be done in the chair. You could exchange a desk chair with an exercise ball to improve core strength and posture, keep small dumbbells nearby for arm exercises or try a pedal exerciser.”

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