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Surprise: Mobile devices don't help office ergonomics

Lamont Wood | Aug. 12, 2013
Getting a move on is good, but understand the devices' limitations as you do so.

"The signal to stand up does something to the body that tunes it, controlling the blood pressure and circulation," says Vernikos. "Every 20 to 30 minutes you need to stand up. More often is fine, but doing it 20 times at once and saying you are done is not sufficient; you must do it throughout the day."

She bases her conclusions on research she did for NASA on the bodily effects of having no gravitational stress, such as what astronauts experience in free fall. Volunteers stayed in bed for a month; some of them got up to use a treadmill and others just got up. A third group just stayed in bed. The completely bedbound volunteers lost 25% of their aerobic capacity in just four days, Vernikos recalls.

As for the ones who got up, "To my surprise, standing was more effective than walking. You need to stand up once every hour, and every 30 minutes was even better," she says. Extrapolating the results to people who are sitting rather than lying down, people need to stand up 36 times a day, she says.

To take it to another level, Weitzel says she personally uses a standing desk and has recommended that solution to hundreds of Xerox employees over the years. "Most say pretty quickly that it does help their back. Out of all those people I only know one that went back to sitting. Maybe it was high heels," she surmises.

Weitzel is quick to point out that it is better to both sit and stand, saying that she works with employees to recognize the signs of fatigue. "I educate them on how their body should feel and [tell them] not push it beyond a certain point, since standing all the time can create as many issues as sitting."

The office as submarine
You may also be feeling sluggish because of what's streaming down from overhead: fixed, unchanging artificial lighting, especially in the absence of windows.

Figueiro has done studies for the U.S. Navy concerning the use of light to enhance crew alertness on submarines. She found that, left to itself, your body will drift into a 24.2-hour schedule, and so eventually your sleeping hours will begin to overlap your office hours. To reset your body to the 24-hour day, you need to expose yourself to sunlight, but in winter people often commute in darkness. In the absence of sunlight, exposure to bluish light will serve, she says.

"Exposing yourself to sunlight can be a kick like a cup of coffee," Figueiro adds. Bluish cubicle lighting is also available, but, whatever the source, the light has to reach your retinas — you have to see the source, directly or reflected, she explains.

 

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