What is better – to stand or sit at work?
There is a lot of confusion in people’s minds at present as to whether, from a health point of view, it is better to sit or to stand at work.
While some individuals may have read around the available information on the subject and decided to take the sensible option to sit less and stand more they are still are not certain as to how long they should spend in either posture.
Individuals may well have found their own threshold for the time they spend in standing discovering that if they stand for too long they will experience discomfort in their lower limbs and back and will need to get the weight off their feet and return to sitting.
You may have discovered that prolonged standing is not necessarily a good option – certainly from a comfort point of view.
In fact, before the ill health effects of prolonged sitting started to emerge it was well known that prolonged standing is not good from a health point of view either.
In a recent paper which reviewed the health risks and interventions for workers and employers whose work involved prolonged standing, Waters (1) demonstrated that there is ample evidence to show that prolonged standing at work leads to adverse health outcomes
The health outcomes identified by Waters(1) are not confined to aches and pains in the lower limbs and back and fatigue but also included potentially serious health outcomes such as cardiovascular problems and pregnancy-related health issues.
Overall, however, the decision to spend more time in standing than sitting is part of the solution as there is now overwhelming evidence that our sedentary lifestyle is a distinct risk factor for several diseases including but not limited to type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
The strongest association with prolonged sitting, even after accounting for time taking regular moderate exercise, is with type 2 diabetes.
However, set against what is now strong scientific evidence that prolonged unbroken sitting is a risk factor for developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes there is emerging evidence which shows that breaking prolonged sitting time with light activity such as walking is an effective strategy for prevention.
Furthermore, there is now an emerging picture that the simple action of standing up regularly throughout the day may help prevent type 2 diabetes (2).
As discussed in another recent blog post Risks of being Sedentary at Work, Joan Vernikos (3) work showed that it takes at least 32 times (spread throughout the day) from sitting to standing to help reduce some of the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle.
In summary merely substituting sitting with standing is unlikely to gain any substantial health benefit.
It is the action of regularly changing from sitting to standing throughout the day in addition to taking regular moderate exercise that, together, will provide a powerful antidote to the development of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
1. Waters and Dick, 2015, Evidence of health risks associated with prolonged standing at work and intervention effectiveness. Rehabil Nurs. May-Jun;40(3):148-65.
2. Henson et al, 2016, Sedentary behaviour as a new behavioural target in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Metab Res Rev. Jan;32 Suppl 1:213-20.
3. Venikos 2011, Sitting Kills Moving Heals Quill Driver Books Fresno, California
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