This is a blog about the importance of an anti fatigue mat in ensuring a great standing experience. With all the media attention on the dangers of sitting and the benefits of standing, there should be no question in your mind about how standing can help you live a longer, healthier life while being more productive at work. Many people who have examined the data are so convinced that they take the plunge and buy a standing desk with great expectations and determination to change their ways by adopting a standing lifestyle at work.
In recent years Ergonomists have urged people to get sit-stand desks so they can alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day. Their rationale for this recommendation is that the most important thing is movement so changing back and forth between sitting and standing at least helps people to get moving. However, the real reason behind this recommendation probably has more to do with compliance than movement. That is, they know that the majority of people won’t be able to stand for the entire day, so they set the bar lower by recommending a mix of sitting and standing. It’s a little bit like the government coming out with dietary recommendations that are not designed for optimal health because they don’t believe the majority of Americans can adhere to the stricter guidelines that they should be recommending. The truth is that we have occasion to sit during so many other times during the day that even if you stood all day during work, it’s likely that you may still find yourself sitting for the majority of your day.
Sadly, the vast majority of people who invest in getting a sit-stand desk end up leaving the desk in the seated position after the first few weeks of experimentation. Why is this? There are likely to be a number of explanations, but one reason might be that people underestimate the difficulty of the transition from sitting to standing. As a society we are so used to sitting. We sit in school for many years, sit during meals, sit in our cars, and sit while we watch T.V. With our bodies so used to sitting, it’s no wonder that many people find the transition to standing more difficult than they originally anticipated.
“…the vast majority of people who invest in getting a sit-stand desk end up leaving the desk in the seated position…”
Most people who try standing but give up are the ones who go cold turkey from sitting to standing. It’s a little bit like deciding to run a marathon with no training. You need to allow your body some time to get use to standing so it is best to start out with short periods of standing and gradually over a period of weeks lengthen the time during the day that you find you can stand comfortably. If you have back issues or other physical limitations, you might want to make the transition very gradually. The most important thing is to listen to your body, but it may help to keep a standing log and set goals. The main point here is that standing is both a behavioral and a physical change so being smart about the transition is something that requires a conscious effort.
In addition to being intentional about the transition from sitting to standing, it’s absolutely essential in our opinion to invest in a good anti fatigue mat, also known as a “standing mat.” Our strong hypothesis is that the majority of people who intend to stand but revert to sitting never bothered to get an anti-fatigue mat or at least a good anti-fatigue mat. Standing for any period of time without a good anti-fatigue mat is like walking a mile with no shoes on. Sure, you can do it, but the experience is not very pleasant and after a few times you’ll end up concluding that it’s not worth it.
“Standing for any period of time without a good anti-fatigue mat is like walking a mile with just one shoe on. Sure, you can do it, but the experience is not very pleasant…”
Most office buildings are carpeted, but there’s generally no padding or very little padding under the carpet. It may not seem like a big deal when you are used to sitting, but when you are standing for the majority of the day without a mat you will begin to feel the cumulative impact of the lack of padding on your legs, joints and back. It’s similar to walking around a trade show at a convention center. They roll out carpeting on concrete floors, but there is no padding. You really don’t notice it for the first few hours, but by the afternoon you start really feeling it. If you are lucky enough to find a tradeshow booth with thick carpeting and padding underneath, it’s like heaven compared to the hard floor of the aisles.
Similarly, if you are a runner and you run on roads, your body can take the impact for a number of years. But after a while, and it might be decades, the cumulative impact of all the pounding takes a toll on your body, and that’s when you’ll do anything to find a nice trail to run on. Tennis players who have played on clay or grass courts after playing on hard courts know what we are talking about.
Obviously, when you are standing at a desk you don’t have the same pounding and impact on your joints as if you are in motion, but just your own body weight standing on a hard surface is enough to place your joints, ligaments, and muscles under stress. A good anti fatigue mat will absorb your body weight and take an enormous amount of pressure off your musculoskeletal system. So standing on a high quality mat will not only benefit your body over the long haul, but it makes it much more comfortable to stand for longer periods of time so your standing compliance will increase and you will be much more likely to stick with it. A good standing mat is literally like heaven, particularly if you are in bare feet or just have your shoes off.
“A good anti fatigue mat will absorb your body weight and take an enormous amount of pressure off your musculoskeletal system.”
But, don’t just listen to us. Try it. If you invest in a good quality anti-fatigue mat, you will feel the night and day difference we are talking about. Many ergonomists are remiss in not recommending that people get a standing mat. Some of them might not think it is necessary if people are alternating between sitting and standing since they are only standing for part of the day. Others are concerned that if your chair doesn’t easily roll over the mat, then the mat would need to be moved out of the way when people want to sit. That may require bending over for 2-3 seconds to move the mat. It’s impractical for most chairs to be able to roll over an anti-fatigue mat, and unless you have a medical condition that prevents you from bending over or puts you at risk, it is absurd to think it is too difficult or inconvenient to bend over to slide the mat out of the way a few times a day. So if you have a sit-stand desk or any kind of standing desk, perhaps the most important thing you can do is to get a good anti-fatigue mat. You won’t believe the difference it will make. In our next blog we’ll discuss what to look for in selecting an anti-fatigue mat.