More people standing while working for health reasons

SINGAPORE - Welcome to my office: Please sit, while I stand.

While some companies offer ergonomic designer Herman Miller chairs as an employee perk, a growing breed of workers are opting for no seats at all - for health reasons.

Some five months ago, Mr Dany Leong made the switch from sitting at work to standing.

A creative producer at Singapore-based production house Intuitive Films, he now stands when using the computer in his Kallang Pudding Road office, two to three hours at a stretch. Instead of standing stock still, he assumes different positions: standing on one foot, with legs wide apart and even doing a little dance occasionally.

Now literally thinking on his feet, Mr Leong, 40, says: "I have long noticed that when I stand, my creative juices flow better."

He does this with the help of an elevation desk, a height-adjustable model which allows the user to either sit or stand in comfort. The desk's height can be modified, between 65cm and 130cm, at the push of a button. Mr Leong, who is 1.75m tall, can keep the work surface at a comfortable height while standing.

His Danish-brand Duba B8 desk cost him $2,500 from Danish Designs, a company that distributes Scandinavian furniture here. It has been bringing in such desks since 2007.

Danish Designs' owner and director Rhiannon Hills, 45, says there has been an increase in sales of elevation desks in the last two years - without giving sales figures.

Another company, CrossCom, which sells ergonomic and height-adjustable workstations here, started selling office models half a year ago. Business has been brisk, says Ms Ning Yap, 40, director of CrossCom Ergonomic Lifestyle.

These desks are nothing new in countries such as Denmark, where consumers are sold on ergonomic furniture.

In Singapore, though, elevation desks are considered a niche product. But there has been growing interest among local firms, says Mrs Hills. Prices range from $1,800 to $6,000.

Last month, family bak kwa business Lim Chee Guan spent about $40,000 to buy 24 elevation desks for all its office staff.

Says Mr Jerre Lim, 37, Lim Chee Guan's third-generation proprietor: "It helps to move the body. Also, there are some jobs such as counting that are easier done when standing up. It will help to ease the strain on the workers' necks."

Similarly, Grundfos, a company providing pumps and pump solutions, spent about $1 million on 113 elevation desks last year when it moved into a new building in Jurong.

Its regional managing director Poul Due Jensen, 41, says: "I have seen a happier and more productive workforce since. Workers are fresh and relaxed."

Mr Jensen himself is a convert to the stand-while-you-work movement. He used to suffer from backaches but now feels that his back is better.

About eight months ago, American expatriate Jeff Baum bought an elevation desk for his home office. Since then, he has not had any soreness in his back, despite spending five hours working and making conference calls at his desk.

Says Mr Baum, 50, senior vice-president of supply chain solutions company Manhattan Associates: "I am considering integrating a treadmill or an exercise bike so I can exercise while reading a long report."

Mr Leong, too, says he no longer gets neck and shoulder pains - unlike when he used to sit for long hours at work.

Standing, it has been reported, helps to combat the "sitting disease".

According to Dr Sonali Ganguly, 37, a consultant in the department of endocrinology at Singapore General Hospital, the "sitting disease" refers to a sedentary lifestyle that puts one's health at risk.

She says: "Lack of physical activity can lead to various health issues such as hypertension, obesity and heart disease."

Although there is no conclusive evidence that standing helps one to lose weight, she says standing uses more muscles and thus burns more calories and boosts metabolism.

Dr Benjamin Tow, 40, an orthopaedic surgeon, says sitting, especially bent forward, weakens the core muscles which surround the spine and maintain posture. "This increases the chance of back pain," he adds. "Standing will help to decrease the pressure on the spinal disc."

He says elevation desks are not essential "if you can think of ways to remind yourself to take regular breaks from sitting and to get up and stretch and walk about".

Besides, being upright in a fixed pose for long periods of time can result in engorgement of veins in the legs, he cautions. These varicose veins are aesthetically unpleasing.

So how long should one stand then? That really depends on one's age and weight. The bottom line: Stand an entire day if you are used to it, says Dr Tow, but just keep moving. Bosses may want to bear in mind that there is new meaning to keeping your employees on their toes.

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