When it comes to work lives affecting health, the focus has long been on how sitting for long periods of hours, as those with desk jobs do regularly, is detrimental to the well-being of an individual. However, researchers have now found that the opposite can be just as bad.

In a new study published in the journal Human Factors, researchers explored the long-term effects of standing for over 75 percent of a workday, which almost half of the world's employee population normally endure. Standing for long periods of time has been associated with short-term adverse health issues, like fatigue, backaches and leg cramps, and researchers suggest that recurrent muscle fatigue can lead to serious health issues over time.

Maria Gabriela Garcia, one of the authors for the study, said that long-term muscle fatigue due to prolonged standing doesn't receive a lot of attention and yet its implications can be burdensome not just for workers but employers and the rest of society as well.

For the study, Garcia and colleagues Thomas Läubli and Bernard Martin asked subjects (12 women and 14 men) from two age groups to participate in simulations involving standing for five hours. Subjects were also given 30-minute lunch breaks and 5-minute seated breaks to rest within that period.

Based on results, the researchers discovered evidence that standing for five hours during a workday can lead to significant long-term fatigue, even though regular breaks are introduced. Adverse symptoms associated with prolonged standing also persisted for a minimum of 30 minutes after subjects were allowed to sit to rest and they manifested in young adults (18 to 30 years old) as much as they did in subjects over 50 years old. Results were also consistent regardless of gender.

"Long-term fatigue after prolonged standing work may be present without being perceived," added Garcia. The researchers also pointed out that current schedules for work that require long periods of standing may not adequately provide rest that prevents fatigue from accumulating. Unfortunately, muscle fatigue that lasts for a while may be a contributing factor to back pain and musculoskeletal disorders.

Muscle fatigue was measured according to postural stability, subjective discomfort evaluation and electrically induced muscle twitching.

Garcia and Läubli were from ETH Zürich while Martin has associations with the University of Michigan.

Photo: David Berkowitz | Flickr

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