By now the word is out; sitting is bad for you. This statement should not shock anyone. New information is arising on the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle. It seems the effects of inactivity and sitting range further than we ever anticipated. Prolonged sitting has been shown to increase incidence of chronic diseases including heart disease, obesity, and diabetes and even reduce lifespan (1). In fact health care professionals are now asking the question “Is sitting the new smoking?”
Let’s face it. Sitting is nearly unavoidable. 75% of the work force is sitting for upwards of half their work day (2). Sound familiar? It may be time to consider a standing work station. A standing work station has an adjustable desk which allows a quick transition from sitting to standing. Having the freedom to adjust your body position throughout the day has been proven to positively affect the cardiovascular system, musculoskeletal system, and mental wellbeing.
Cardiovascular (Heart) Health
Increased sitting time correlates to increased risk of heart attack and cardiovascular disease (1). The increased risk can be associated with a few factors. There’s the obvious benefit of standing and walking all day. In our Williamsville clinic I’ll walk upwards of three miles before lunch (in a room no bigger than 2,000 sq ft). It shouldn’t shock anyone to hear that this is far more beneficial than sitting all day. Smaller, less known benefits of standing and walking exist, too. By alternating between sitting and standing throughout the day the cardiovascular system is challenged to maintain a constant blood pressure. Standing makes the heart work harder as it contends with gravity and the increased demand to supply postural muscles.
The benefits of standing over sitting really peak when we look at spine health. Sitting causes an increase in disc pressure when compared to standing. Looking beyond the low back, slouched sitting posture will increase bending throughout the entire spine. Slouched sitting will increase strain at the neck and skyrocket muscle tension throughout the shoulders and neck. Even the most posture conscious worker will fall victim to slouching after hours of sitting. One study found that shoulder pain, neck pain, upper and lower back pain improved by 20-30% for workers with a sit to stand desk (3). Decreased pain is only the beginning. Our bodies are designed to stand and move.
Sitting can also influence your mental health and wellbeing. One third (33%) of workers who were allowed to stand reported less stress than those who sit (4). The freedom to stand also left workers feeling more energized, happier, and more focused. Obviously a more pleasant work environment is better for everyone.
Most of those who sit all day know it’s negatively affecting their health. It’s often expressed in our clinic when we discuss their occupation. “Do you sit most of the day,” I ask. It’s usually followed with an “unfortunately” or “I try to get up and move as much as possible.” While every work office is different, many are transitioning to a standing work station. Standing stations may not work though. Troubles arise as many offices are not equipped for standing stations. Also, transitioning to a standing work station can cost upwards of $1,000 per desk.
Here’s an option that we use in our office. This adjustable overbed hospital table is a perfect and inexpensive substitute for home or work.
Despite research showing plenty of benefits when choosing standing over sitting, it may not feasible for you or your employer. That being said, walking breaks are a solid option. A pedometer, a device that counts your steps, is a simple way to quantify your activity. You’ll find that many days come up short of the, although unproven, 10,000 steps per day recommendation. Regardless, the goal here is less sitting and more activity. For most, any increased activity over their current level is a benefit. So…. get moving!
1. Katzmarzyk, Peterq, Timothy Church, Cora Craig, and Claude Bouchard. “Sitting Time and Mortality from All Causes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise (1999): 998-1005. Web.
2. Hamilton, Marc, Deborah Hamilton, and Theodore Zderic. “Role of Low Energy Expenditure and Sitting in Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, Type 2 Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease.” Perspectives in Diabetes 56 (2007): 2655-667. Web.
3. Hedge, Alan. “Effects of an Electric Height-adjustable Worksurface on Self-assessed Musculoskeletal Discomfort and Productivity in Computer Workers.” Cornell University Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Laboratory (2004): 1-31. Web
4. Pronk, Nicolaas, Abigail Katz, and Jane Rodmyre Payfer. “Reducing Occupational Sitting Time and Improving Worker Health: The Take-a-Stand Project.” Preventing Chronic Disease Public Health Research, Practice, and Policy 9.154 (2012)