7 Ergonomic Solutions That Can Hamper Our Personal Well-Being
Ergonomic solutions are not as simple as they seem.
Many well-meaning and seemingly sensible solutions are difficult—if not impossible—to repeat and sustain over the long haul. And this is definitely true of attempts to overcome our sedentary lifestyle, particularly in our office environment.
We need to think past the obvious. Many of the seemingly simple recommendations for improved office ergonomics are unsustainable and can hamper our personal well-being. Here are seven of these offenders.
Getting Rid of the Chair
Instead of sitting, let’s all stand. Let's get a standing desk.
With a little practice, we could be standing all day. But standing for extended periods is as bad as sitting for extended periods. We need to understand that sitting is not the problem and neither is standing. Those extended periods are the problem.
We have a tendency to jump from one extreme to another. In this case, to counter "all day sitting," we quickly embrace "all day standing." Unfortunately, neither are good for us.
Going for a Walk Every Hour
Take a two-minute walk around the office every 40-60 minutes.
Walking is great, but what really happens when we use those two-minute walks to break up our time sitting in front of the computer?
Well, first of all, we stop what we're doing and interrupt our concentration. Research shows that, after an interruption, it takes us about 20 minutes to get back to our prior levels of concentration. A walk every 40 minutes means we barely have time to give our best performance before we step away from our work.
Instead of sitting in a conference room, walk while you are having your meeting.
Conference rooms exist so a small group of people can meet and share ideas without distracting or disturbing their co-workers. Imagine how bothersome it would be to be trying to do your work with half-a-dozen of your colleagues walking around the office talking to each other.
Using a Treadmill
Once the novelty of working on a treadmill wears off, you'll have a higher energy level and enjoy that good-tired feeling you get from knowing you are burning calories while working.
Treadmills take up considerable space and are too heavy and bulky to be easily moved out of the way. That makes achieving the balance between standing (or walking) and sitting far more difficult.
The constant sound of the motor and the thump-thump of walking on the belt can be distracting to others. Writing and using the mouse with accuracy can be a challenge.
And while walking has its benefits, walking on a treadmill is not the same as walking over ground. Walking over ground allows you to push away from a stable force, something you cannot do on a treadmill.
"Treadmills are not the same as walking over ground…The natural way of walking doesn't work on a treadmill belt. The lateral hip and glute muscles aren't used, so you need to use hip flexors instead. It may look the same, but the muscles used to do it have been changed."
- Katy Bowman, Biomechanics Scientist and Kinesiologist, Restorative Exercise Institute
Sitting on an Exercise Ball
An exercise ball will strengthen your core muscles and help you to move while at your desk.
As the name implies, an exercise ball really does give you exercise—your core muscles are strengthened because they are constantly involved in stabilizing your body due to the inherent instability of the ball.
Moreover, there is no support for your arms (arm rests) and the lower back (lumbar support). Over an extended period, this can cause fatigue resulting in poor posture. The thighs are also not evenly supported and knees are often bent to less than 90 degrees, contributing to restricted circulation and stress to the lower legs.
Getting a Crank Sit-Stand Desk
Crank Sit-Stand Desks allow you to raise and lower your workstation, they do not consume electricity and they are cheaper than electric desks.
It takes approximately seven crank rotations to move the desk up or down an inch—can you imagine how many rotations it would take to raise the desk from a sitting to a standing position?
Let’s do the math. From sitting at 27” desk height to standing at 43” desk height (recommended for a person 5’ 10” tall, with shoes on), the desk has to rise 16”. At seven rotations per inch, that’s a whopping 112 rotations!
Crank Sit-Stand Desks are simply not designed to promote frequent adjustments throughout the workday.
Adding a Sit-Stand Riser to Your Desk
Let's just put a Sit-Stand Riser on top of our existing desk.
Although Desktop Risers (DT Risers) allow you to conveniently switch from sitting and standing throughout the day, there are issues to consider with both postures when using one. In most cases, the desk you are presently sitting at is already too high for you. The tops of most desks are about 29" off the floor, which is about perfect for someone who is about 6' 0" to 6' 1" tall. Needless to say, most of us don't fall into that small range.
If you are using a keyboard that sits on your desk for extended periods of time, you will likely experience neck, shoulder, and lower back discomfort due to a tendency to scrunch up your shoulders to compensate (learn about the Risk Factors for Developing Musculoskeletal Disorders).
Many desktop risers compound the problem by placing the keyboard tray on top of the desk. If the DT Riser has a keyboard tray that drops below the desk surface, it forces you to back away from your desk surface, leaving much of it inaccessible without twisting and reaching. The same applies when DT Risers are lifted, leaving the surface behind (below) as you raise them up.