Check out this article from the Aniston Army Depot Industrial Hygiene Department.

The Workplace Athlete

I have always admired triathletes. They are some of the most-fit people on the planet. It is so popular that there are varying lengths of courses to fit almost any fitness level. For those of you unfamiliar with the sport of triathlon to includes some distance of swimming, biking and running.The sprint is the shortest typically with swims up to 1000M, biking up to 18 miles and a run up to 4 miles. The longest is the ultra with swim distances up to and over 3.2 miles, over 62 miles of biking and over 18 miles of running all in one event. Let’s take a moment to breakdown these events (stay with me).


Let’s Get Started
First we have the swim. This is typically the shortest distance event. Talking to many triathletes over the years I have found this is the event that most dread. It takes some amount of skill to swim and it requires a lot of effort from the whole body. Traditionally the events are held in the open water which adds another degree of difficulty. Sometimes the water is cold and you need a wetsuit. Goggles are a must and fins are prohibited.

Next up is the bike. This is typically the longest mileage portion of the event, but most people enjoy this part the most.  You’re on a mechanical object with wheels and you can coast some on the downhills to get a break, but the uphill portions can be difficult at times.

Running is the last portion of the triathlon. You’re already wore out at this point, but you have to do it. It is slow and tiresome, but energizing when you pass the people that haven’t trained as hard as you.


What does all of this have to do with sitting at a desk at work? Actually, absolutely nothing! I am setting the stage for a new sport, “the workplace triathlon”. One you can, and should, complete every day. You don’t have to train for it and it will not wear you out when your finished. What I am proposing is the sit, stand, walk triathlon for corporate athletes. Let’s break it down.
SIT. Most Americans sit for the majority of the day while at work. We all know the health benefits for sitting long periods of time throughout the day…wait, there are no benefits. It destroys every fiber of your body and then some. It is detrimental not only to your musculoskeletal system, but also to your cardiovascular system. So, like triathlon, we should make this our shortest timed event. Do this as little as possible throughout the day. We also need to consider our after work behavior. In a survey conducted by Ergotron in 2013, they reported that people sit between 1-2 hours to do other activities at home after work. They report people sit on average 13 hours a day, add in your sleep time and you have personalized your sedentary activity hours.

STAND. Just like the bike, this should be the event that you do the most throughout the day. There are several benefits to your musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems when you stand vs. sitting for the majority of the day. In fact, a study from the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (JOEM) by Stanford University showed that workers using sit-stand work stations were 78% more likely to report pain free work days, had less discomfort after 15 days and had increased concentration.

The benefits don’t stop with positive health outcomes, you’re brain gets a boost too. Productivity is shown to increase when standing while performing a task (I am standing as I type this). A study published in the journal IIE Transactions on Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors showed that after one month workers that stood in a call center had 23% more successful calls than seated workers. This benefit increased with time too. At six months those same employees that were in the standing group reported 53% more successful calls. The study also included position monitors and measured time standing and time seated. The standing group sat an average of 1.6 hours less than the seated group. This appears to be fairly minimal time for a big payoff.

WALK. I could write several pages discussing the benefits of walking. The fidget spinner of two years ago was the step counter. People were counting steps and doing their best to reach the magical 10,000 number. We need to continue that practice. I think everyone has heard this before, but it doesn’t hurt to mention the benefits again. Walking is a safe, easy and cheap way to maintain health. Walking has positive benefits for managing heart disease, blood pressure, metabolic disorders (diabetes), and weight. It also helps to strengthen bones, and gets the blood flowing in the legs (sitting can contribute to blood clots). It can also have benefits for posture, balance and coordination as well as having an overall positive impact on mood. Enough? Lets put it all together.


“The workplace triathlon”

Sit: Do this the least amount of time during the day.

Stand: Increase the number of hours you stand at your work station to complete tasks.

Walk: Walk on breaks. Modify your lunch time so you can devote time to walking. Invite your friends and create challenges for each other.

The majority of Americans are corporate athletes. If possible, we need to exhaust every option to change how we perform that sport to have positive impacts on the health of the workforce. Workers get a chance to live healthier, disease free lifestyles and employers gain more productive pain-free employees. In the end, everyone finishes a winner.

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The ART tool was designed by the Health and Safety Executive of the British government. They are our equivalent of OSHA. This is a free tool that can help you in assessing risks to employees that involve repetitive movement tasks of the upper extremity. They have free downloads of the ART tool Read more

U.S. workplaces have become increasingly sedentary, with resulting negative health effects. Through its Total Worker Health® Program, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends an integrated approach to addressing sedentary work environments. An integrated approach is one that protects workers from work-related injury and illness and helps them advance their overall health and well-being, on and off the job. This document describes organizational practices that can reduce the risks associated with sedentary work.

Using Total Worker Health® Concepts to Reduce the Health Risks from Sedentary Work[PDF – 891 KB]


The most recent Cochrane review of randomized control trials (RCT) involving relief of low back pain using massage was published in 2015. The review examined 25 RCT and found that massage was better than inactivity in the short term for pain relief. They also found that massage was better than active controls in the short and long term for pain relief. Read the full review at the link below.
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Musculoskeletal disorders in the form of overexertion caused sprain and strain injuries along with repetitive motion injuries were responsible for costing employers over $16 billion in 2013 and accounted for 27% of all reported injuries. Some of the most common MSDs include:

  • Epicondylitis
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Sciatica
  • Low Back Pain
  • Tendonitis
  • Ligament Sprain
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
  • Muscle Strain
  • Plantar fasciitis

These disorders typically occur over a period of time and may have some noticeable signs and symptoms before they progress to a chronic condition. The typical progression may include the following steps:

  • Exposure to risk factor (overexertion/repetitive motion)
  • Fatigue of the exposed anatomy and limited recovery time
  • Soft tissues reach the limit of sustaining the outside forces
  • Ache or discomfort progresses to a chronic condition

Prevention and early recognition, and quick, appropriate intervention can stop the progression of these disorders to costly conditions. Some steps to take include:

  • Adjust the job to the worker
  • Decrease common motions known to cause injury
  • Educate employees how to recognize MSDs
  • Implement an on-site solution for addressing early signs of MSDs

If you hadn’t read this title and someone asked you, “What is the top cause of musculoskeletal injury in the workplace?” what would your reply be? Chances are you would have said repetitive motion injuries.

Overexertion injuries top the list of workplace related musculoskeletal disorders reported in 2016 in regards to the data from the 2013 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. For comparison, in 1998 the Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index reported from the BLS overexertion injury cost approximately $9.8 billion dollars. For 2013 they reported an estimated cost of $15 billion dollars. Compared to the estimate for repetitive motion injuries costing approximately $1.8 billion dollars in 2013.

There are differences in the two terms and how injuries are classified and recorded. Repetitive motion injuries are just that, injuries caused by repeatedly performing a specific motion as a part of a task. The term doesn’t necessarily take in to account force applied to the motion, but it is thought that continuous use causes excessive strain on the tissues leading to swelling and ultimately pain or neurologic symptoms. Read more

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) in the form of overexertion sprains and strains and repetitive trauma disorders continue to claim two of the top ten most common workplace injuries. It has become a huge cost to employers as the 2013 estimates for these conditions combined exceed $16 billion dollars. Employers are addressing these conditions by looking at ways to prevent the issue from happening, detect the issue early, and utilize an effective solution to manage the conditions.

Prevention is key and begins with an analysis of the workers environment. Typically this is referred to an ergonomist. These professionals analyze the workers environment to increase efficiency and decrease disorders arising from any undue stressors. Simply put, ergonomics fits the job to the person.

Educating employees on early detection of MSD is necessary to minimize impact on productivity and to increase the likelihood of quick resolution of the condition. When the symptoms of MSD are minimal and in the early stages conservative, first aid care can help speed the recovery process without the need for more costly interventions and can minimize productivity loss.

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One of the simplest things employees can do to help prevent injuries is also one of the most important. That one thing is workplace ergonomics. Workplace ergonomics in used in most contexts as it relates to the position of a person sitting at their desk. While this is true, it does not stop in the office. Ergonomics is a science that deals with the design and arrangement of the things people use at work to make the work easier and/or safer. Read more