Standing Up for Better Health at Work

a white man sitting at his office desk with bad posture

Next to sliced bread, chairs are possibly one of the greatest inventions ever. They’re softer than our previous sitting tool, the rock, and they provide our bodies with the support they need as we work. They’ve also been getting a hard second look as more and more research points to the health effect of our modern work posture.

Many of us spend our entire day sitting at our desk. The creation of the standing desk has disrupted this a bit, but there is still discussion of what the benefits are to standing rather than sitting, or vice versa. The truth is that a mix of the two seems to be optimal. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of both and what it means to find a healthy posture for your life.

The problem with sitting

For professions where working on a computer for long periods is required—fields such as IT, administration, writing—the harmful effects of sitting too long can be severe. One study found that individuals who sat the most, when compared with those who sit the least, had over twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In this study on what could be called the spectrum of sitting, individuals who sat the most also had a 13% increased risk of cancer.

Hearing this news might tempt you to never sit down again. Standing without pause, however, comes with its drawbacks and health effects.

Research has also made the connection between long hours of sitting and the increased risks of obesity, cancer and premature death. The reasons for this are varied. Sitting affects your whole body! For example, long periods of sitting deactivates an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase that breaks down fats in the blood vessels. Reducing this enzyme can lead to blood vessel blockage

Sitting for long stretches also leads to your muscles wasting away due to inactivity, or muscle atrophy. Probably the most infamous symptom of sitting too much is back pain. Sitting causes back pain mainly because of the bad posture many of us fall into when sitting for too long. We naturally slouch, and this can cause a strain on your back and shoulders muscles.

The primary reason sitting for too long harms our health is simple: Human beings weren’t made to sit around. We evolved to stand upright, to take on a life of constant physical activity. To answer this problem may have begun to look at standing desks as a solution.

The standing desk revolution?

Why stand rather than sit? For one, you might lose a little weight. One meta-study, covering 1184 participants, found the mean difference in energy expenditure between sitting and standing was 0.15 kcal/min. By just substituting sitting with standing for six hours/day, a 65 kg person can expend an additional 54 kilocalorie per day. [1]

Your heart also may benefit from standing instead of sitting. A study conducted by the British Medical Journal discovered that bus drivers who stood all day had half the risk of heart disease-related death when compared to other drivers who sat through work [2].

Of course, there is also research on standing’s effect on the back. In one randomized trial, the use of a standing desk has been shown to contribute to reduced back pain in those studied. They experienced a 50 percent decrease in low back pain compared to a control group [3]. Standing has also been linked to reduced shoulder pain risk.

In a small group, standing for just two hours was even shown to increase creative problem-solving [4].

Hearing this news might tempt you to never sit down again. Standing without pause, however, comes with its drawbacks and health effects. These can including foot, leg or back pain.

In that same study that showed a spike in creative problem solving, there was also increased discomfort in all body areas. The group of 20 subjects stood for two hours, and along with discomfort accompanied by the swelling of their limbs, they experienced decreased reaction times.

Mixing it up at work

black and white photo of man at his desk with overhead view as he works

For those whose jobs require them to sit, it may seem like a no-win situation. The fact is, however, that standing desks can be your friend--and so can your chair. The solution is to maintain movement between each position.

The University of Waterloo’s Department of Kinesiology has said that the ideal sit-stand ratio lies somewhere between 1:1 and 1:3. According to them, avoiding back pain means moving early and moving often. Keeping this in mind is the best way to reap the benefits of your standing desk if you have one.

Even when sitting in proper form, it’s been shown that those with low back pain tend to have a more static sitting posture with less frequent micro-changes [5].

Overall, the goal should be to move your body more and to move it correctly.

Finding the best posture to work

If you’re looking to combat the adverse effects of sitting and bad posture, the help of a trained kinesiologist may be essential. 90% of people in western nations suffer from some back pain [6]. Much of it can be attributed to incorrect posture and sedentary work habits. So get moving!

At Symmetrix, we work with businesses to achieve a healthy, ergonomic set up for their employees. Take advantage of either your standing desk or your standard one by contacting us. We’ll work with you to improve your health, in work and in life. Learn healthy work habits to prevent pain.


Alex ClermontComment