BLUFFTON — Returning to work after maternity leave and experiencing significant back pain, Robin Bowlus’ doctor told her she was sitting too long. A friend mentioned standing desks, and she created a standing work station for her computer.

At the time, options were slim and expensive and Bowlus instead chose to rig up her computer monitor on top of a filing cabinet and her keyboard on another little table. Five years later, the idea of a standing desk is gaining in popularity and Bowlus found a standing desk meant for crafting, with a full table up top with shelves and compartments below.

Bowlus, director of public relations for Bluffton University, remains committed to standing, which quickly took her back pain away.

“I researched the ergonomics of it, how tall something should be, where my arms should be, my line of vision,” Bowlus said. “It was exhausting at first. It was unbelievable how draining it was to stand. I tried to discipline myself to stand when I was talking on the phone and at my computer. But the back pain was gone, and as I got more endurance, the tired feeling went away.”

Prolonged sitting time, independent of physical activity, has emerged as a risk factor for various negative health outcomes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prolonged sitting for people with sedentary jobs is now associated with premature mortality, chronic disease, metabolic syndrome and obesity. In contrast, frequent breaks in prolonged sitting time can explain lower health risk related to waist circumference, body mass index, triglyceride levels and other health measurements.

In today’s work place, many workers spend more than half of their entire work day seated, according to the CDC, so the work place can be a place to increase physical activity and reduce sedentary time.

And, we don’t just sit. We slump and hunch and shrug, said Cheri Wagner, an occupational therapist with Northwest Physical Therapy.

“We see poor posture; back, shoulder and neck pain; repetitive injuries in wrists and elbows,” Wagner said. “Most desks are not set up properly for people. You want arm rests so your arms are 90 degrees and your shoulders are relaxed and your wrists are in a neutral position.”

Wagner tells patients to get up and move at least once an hour, and to take control of their own workspace.

Daniel Sharkey, of Celina, did just that, and it ultimately resulted in a new company that makes and sells sit-to-stand desks.

Sharkey worked at a factory for 35 years, and was a plant manager when he was let go during the Great Recession. While there, he had created a standing desk for himself to alleviate back pain. He had tried multiple designs and after finding a good one was making them for people. He created Ergo Desktop in his garage and today has 20 employees in a 20,000-square-foot space in Celina building multiple models and shipping them globally, company Finance Director Derrick Walls said. The company now has distributors in the United States, England, Australia, Canada and will soon be available in Hong Kong.

“When a person sits all day, if affects their body: You get a foggy brain, disc damage, poor circulation in your legs, muscle degeneration, pain, so many things,” Walls said. “When I started working here, I was the ninth employee of the company. I was sitting a lot, and it finally dawned on me that I didn’t have one of these.”

Walls has a model that allows him to alternate between sitting and standing. He typically sits for a couple of hours, stands before lunch, sits for lunch, stands for a couple of hours and finishes his day sitting.

“I’m more productive, and I feel better,” Walls said.

Bowlus has two pieces of advice for people wanting to try standing. She visits a chiropractor monthly because of her heavy use of core muscles. It also helps keep her balanced and standing with equal weight on each leg. And, shoes are important.

“Not so much with comfort, but being consistent,” Bowlus said. “It’s about being at the same height all the time. I’ve gotten into a pattern of buying multiple pairs of the same high heels.”

Bowlus now stands for 90 percent of most of her days, she said. She has snacks less, is more focused and has lost weight. She often chooses to stand in situations where she could sit and dreads planning meetings and conferences.

“If I have to sit for long periods, it’s so bad,” she said. “My body feels horrible.”

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