Think about the last time you bought a new mattress. At some point you probably realized it was like you were sleeping on the side of a hill. Or the old one was lumpy. Or too hard or too soft. These are things you might put up with if you’re camping — but you shouldn’t have to in the comfort of your own home. That’s why you got a new one. Happily, bedtime became smooth, flat, and comfy, once again.
Now — flash forward a few weeks, or months. It’s quite likely you’re noticing something else. Like: Your back feels better. Or your neck. Or there’s less stiffness or muscular discomfort when you get up in the morning. Maybe all of the above (lucky you!). The reason why is pretty intuitive: Changing to the more comfortable mattress had a physiological effect. The switch provided a genuine health benefit.
NOW WE DRAW A REALLY OBVIOUS PARALLEL
You can probably see where this is going. Generally speaking (assuming you aren’t in orbit), contact with the floor creates more physical stress on the body than nearly any other interaction. We say “nearly” because no doubt you can think of things that are far more destructive than standing, walking, or running. But, almost none of them happen with the ubiquitous regularity of standing or walking. Now, running might slide a bit farther down the list — but given the frenetic pace of modern life and how easy it is to fall behind schedule…. Let’s put it this way: there’s a reason they call it running late.
We’re in nearly constant contact with the floor. This is so obvious there’s the risk of it seeming like a simple-minded observation, hardly even worthy of our attention. It is, though. Because what the floor feels like — how it actually handles the impact of a human foot — these are important pieces of information with quantifiable health effects. And all of those effects are magnified because the interaction we’re talking about takes place constantly, over very long periods of time.
The University of Pittsburgh did an independent study* showing that cushion backing decreases muscle strain by 24% when compared with hardback carpet. Musculoskeletal benefits aside, comfort-related factors can enhance overall mood — an effect that also has the potential to provide long-term health benefits. For example: Improved productivity, which has clear economic implications for employers as well as for employees.
There are other benefits, too — when people are happier and feel better, the workplace is simply a more pleasant environment to spend time in. That’s a good thing for the people who work there, certainly, but there’s something else to be gained, also: A positive effect on attracting and retaining employees. There are benefits all around.
THIS IS EVEN MORE RELEVANT RIGHT NOW
Here’s why: There’s a rising enthusiasm for Sit-to-Stand configurations and it’s driven largely by concerns about health. Studies have continually shown the advantages of getting people out of their chairs: A lower risk of weight gain and heart disease, a reduction in back pain, and the mood and energy-level improvements that come with being more active.
This increase in standing and walking should encourage an added focus on floor coverings. Your carpet at home probably has nice cushion underneath to make it more comfortable — shouldn’t we provide those same comforts in the office? The clear answer is yes. Cushion backing makes a difference.
How about standing mats? They help, unquestionably. But be careful about using them as a cure-all. The key question to consider is how often a person might typically be expected to move one. Sliding your mat into position when you stand up and then sliding it back when you sit down again isn’t so bad. Once or twice. But if you have to do it a dozen times a day? Probably not a mood (or lower back) enhancing activity.
THE BIG PICTURE (AGAIN)
If it seems like we’re getting repetitive, it’s because we are. We admit it. As with many of our blog posts, we’re once again interested in broadening the conversation. We are in a world-at-your-fingertips age. Acquiring information is easy. What’s not always so easy is putting that information in context.
Each of our choices is a little bit like dropping a pebble into a pond: The rippling waves spread out in all directions. The splash is the immediate effect, and the most obvious. But if we anticipate where the waves are going, we have the ability to harness the potential they carry with them — and maximize it.
*Redfern, M. and Cham, R. (2000), “The influence of flooring on standing comfort and fatigue,” American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal, 61, 700-708