How Much Should You Stand or Sit at Work?

Sitting all day is bad, but standing all day may be a problem for your health too.

How Much Should You Stand or Sit at Work? Photo by Sergey Nivens / Shutterstock.com

Standing desks, treadmill desks and just plain standing at work or at home gives you a reason to boast. After all, you’re showing your commitment to good health. Healthy people stand and walk more than they sit, right?

Actually, it depends.

Yes, constant sitting has been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer and premature death in 47 studies analyzed by researchers who published their findings in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Harvard Health Publications published a synopsis of the study.

That is likely not surprising to many who have read such reports in newspapers and other general interest publications.

Possibly more surprising is that constant standing might not give you the health benefits you seek.

“What we actually found is that most of it is, very much, just fashionable and not proven good for your health,” Dr. Jos Verbeek, a health researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, told NPR about the use of standing and walking desks.

In fact, it might harm your health as much as constant sitting.

“Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing,” researcher Melvyn Hillsdon from the University of Exeter, England, told Medical Xpress. “The results cast doubt on the benefits of sit-stand work stations, which employers are increasingly providing to promote healthy working environments.”

So what’s the answer? Don’t stand or sit in one position for too long, said Hillsdon. The absence of rapid movement — whether you’re lounging on your couch or walking slowly on a treadmill desk — are equally hazardous to your health.

Doubt it? Think of assembly line workers, bank tellers, salespeople and others who have traditionally had to constantly stand at work. They were often treated for musculoskeletal and cardiac ailments until OSHA-mandated safeguards were established in 1971.

“The idea you should be standing four hours a day? There’s no real evidence for that,” Verbeek told NPR. “I would say that there’s evidence that standing can be bad for your health.”

So how do you stay healthy? Consider these five suggestions from health care experts:

Don’t ditch your standing or treadmill desk

Walking burns significantly more calories than sitting, according to a study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. The researchers found those who sat — such as you would while watching TV or typing — burned 80 calories an hour. Watching TV or typing while you stand only burns 88 calories per hour. But walking burns 210 calories an hour. That’s a significant increase, especially for people who need to shed a few pounds.

Avoid an ‘all or nothing’ mentality

Stanford University researchers found 78 percent of workers with lower back pain had more pain-free days when they used a sit/stand station than those who only sat, according to a study published in the Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine and cited on several health sites. The improvement wasn’t instantaneous, though. Workers reported lessened pain and increased concentration about 15 days after adopting a stand/work station, reported the website Just Stand.org.

Think twice before you stand all day

“Standing all day isn’t the answer,” Alan Hedge, a design and ergonomics professor at Cornell University told the Boston Globe. “That’s where we were 100 years ago, and we needed to develop chairs to prevent curvature of the spine, back aches and varicose veins.” And standing to burn extra calories places extra strain on our bodies, especially for those who are overweight.

Take study results with a grain of salt

“Studies haven’t yet determined how much standing helps healthwise,” I-Min Lee, an associate epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told The Boston Globe. For one thing, researchers are uncertain if health benefits come from standing or moving instead of sitting. Beyond that, it remains unclear whether exercise reduces any health risks from sitting.

Use common sense

When you do computer work, sit. Stand up every 20 minutes, remain standing for eight minutes, and then move for two minutes, recommend researchers at Cornell University. Standing isn’t enough, they say. Movement, even just walking to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, allows blood to circulate, and that improves health.

Although researchers’ conclusions vary, they all seem to agree that sitting, standing and walking — all in moderation throughout the day — is likely the best way to stay healthy.

What’s your healthy regimen, or your bad habit? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

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