03 Nov Sitting Or Standing At Work….Which Is Better For You?
So we’ve all heard the new catch-cry “sitting is the new smoking”, but is standing any better for you than sitting? The answer is yes….and no!
What is wrong with sitting all day?
There has been a lot of talk in the media over the last year about the health risks of sitting. It is true that in the developed world people are leading increasingly sedentary lives. This includes computer-based office work, sedentary leisure, such as TV watching and screen-based entertainment, and sedentary commuting such as cars and public transport. As we have become increasingly sedentary studies have shown that there has also been an increase in conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer, musculoskeletal pain, and mortality (or premature death as the media dramatically put it!) related to sitting and sedentary behaviour .
The problem is that some studies have found that healthy, physically active adults still have negative health markers associated with, sedentary behaviour, even if they achieve the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week (Owen et al., 2010). So moderate intensity exercise doesn’t appear to offset the health risks of sedentary behaviour to the degree previously thought.
So should we stand instead?
There is some evidence for standing more. University College London researcher Dr Emmanuel Stamatakis found that women in the United Kingdom whose work mostly involved standing or walking about had a 32% lower risk of early death than those who worked in sitting jobs.
Furthermore, for the average adult, standing burns more calories and involves more muscular contraction than sitting. One study reported 2.5 times higher average muscular activity of the thigh when standing compared to sitting. This is important for improving blood sugar profiles, cardiovascular health, reducing mortality.
But before you go and buy that $3000 standing desk, there are a few things you should know about standing….
What is wrong with standing all day?
What’s talked about less in the media is that prolonged standing can also have adverse health effects. When we stand, our hearts and circulatory systems work harder to pump blood back up out of the legs against gravity. Our circulation out of the legs is often helped by the muscle pumping action of the calf muscle as we walk. However, if we stand still for long periods of time and this natural muscle pumping action is not able to help return blood to the heart and lungs, this can lead to swelling of the feet or legs and even varicose veins.
If you stand all day, there can also be increased risk of foot, leg, hip and low back pain due to the extra strain on the muscles and joints in these areas from having to literally hold you up all day.
If you wear high heels, you can also be at increased risk of your calf muscles becoming shortened and let’s not also forget that enforced standing has actually been used as an interrogation technique!
So what is the best compromise between sitting and standing?
The secret lies in the word “compromise”. Just like its not good for our bodies to sit all day, it’s also not good for them to stand all day! We were made to move not be in static positions all day. So in an ideal world, during each half hour of the day, you should initially aim to sit for about 20 minutes, stand for 8 minutes and move for 2 minutes. If you were to do this, over the course of an 8 hour working day, you would have achieved 128 minutes (just over 2 hours, which is recommended by BMJ 2015) of standing and 32 minutes of being active. As you get used to this and feel more comfortable with standing, gradually increase the number of minutes you stand so that eventually you are standing for 14 minutes out of each half hour, so that you gradually to accumulate 4 hours of standing in a day. So just to be clear, the idea is to change position frequently throughout the day as well as finding ways to be more active in the day, rather than waiting until you are sore or uncomfortable before you move. Also, don’t do all of your of standing minutes in a row, another words, don’t stand for 2 hours and then sit for the rest of the day!
Don’t forget your workstation ergonomics
If you are going to stand during your day, make sure you invest in a desk that is easily able to be changed from sitting to standing height. You also need to remember your workstation ergonomics-more than just having a desk that varies in height, you also need to still make sure that your monitor is at the correct height (on a stand or monitor arm) and not just sitting on the desk (this is one of the main problems that we come across when assessing standing desk setup). Ensure that you adjust the desk height so that you can still have your elbows bent to approximately 90 degrees and that you have a shock-absorbing mat to stand on. If you normally wear high-heels, you may want to change into flat shoes or even bare feet while you stand. This will help to minimise the stress on your legs and lower back. For more tips of ergonomic set-up for sitting and standing desks, please see the diagrams below.
Don’t forget about your posture too!
Finally, no matter whether you sit or stand (or move for that matter), don’t forget about your posture! Good posture is essentially the position that puts the least amount of strain on the skeletal system, muscles and internal organs of the body. So even if you are sitting, standing and moving more, if you continue to do it with poor posture and poor ergonomics, you will still be at risk of pain and injury.
So in a nutshell…we weren’t built to sit or stand all day, we were built to move, therefore our advice is – sit less, stand (a bit) more, move (much) more and make sure you have great posture and ergonomics whichever position you’re in!
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