To Sit or Stand? – That is the question

Humans were not designed to sit for hours on end. In evolutionary terms we have made a very rapid transition from working the land to sitting all day at a computer screen. Just a few decades ago, if you were a draughtsman, engineer or even an accountant, you would have worked at a high sloping drawing board or ledger and with the option of sitting on a high stool. But computers changed all that, and  with it certain health conditions have become prevalent.

Risks of sitting

As long ago as 2007, the Daily Mail published an article about the health effects of sitting. A new phrase was coined – ‘Sitting is the new smoking’. Nearly 10 years on, we now known that sitting increases your chances of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease and blood clots, or thrombosis.

In the US studies have shown some dramatic effects of sitting for long periods of time. People who sit a lot are 54% more likely to have a heart attack. Men who sit for more than six hours a day have a 20% higher mortality rate; women have a 40% higher mortality rate. If you sit for more than 23 hours a week, you are 64% more likely to have a heart attack.

Recent studies in the UK along with other studies, have indicated that even regular, cardiovascular exercise are insufficient to counteract the damage done through our sedentary lifestyle.

Health benefits of a sit-stand desk

Sitting for long periods of time causes metabolic issues – you don’t produce the chemicals necessary for processing sugars and fats and as a result your circulation suffers. Your skeleton and muscles form a reactive frame for your body which needs to move and respond to outside forces. Additionally, muscles need to regularly flex to support healthy functions and chemical production.

Standing allows your body to adjust and move easily, flexing muscles continuously. It also keeps your blood circulating well. Movement regulates your blood sugar and keeps your blood pressure lower.  Another benefit is that you burn more calories throughout the day. Standing while working, burns a third more calories than sitting.

Standing and sitting can reduce pain

There is anecdotal and scientific evidence to show that standing while working will help to alleviate back pain and some repetitive stress injuries. The problem can stem from not using your back and stomach muscles enough when sitting. When you sit, you don’t hold your upper body with your muscles; rather you let the chair hold you.

This can lead to compression within the chest and abdominal cavities, slouching of the shoulders and rolling of the spine. These are classic contributory factors in repetitive strain injury and back pain. Working at a standing sit-stand desk gives you the choice to sit or stand for optimum comfort and by working a standing posture will help to keep the core and back muscles engaged throughout the day and improve posture.

Mental benefits of standing

When standing, it is easier to release restless energy. Combined with good circulation, stable blood sugars and an active metabolism, it is easier to stay focused on the task in hand.

But beware

In the US many companies have tried to fit sit-stand desks retrospectively in a mixed seating environment, often after pressure from employees. It has proved difficult.

In a purpose designed office, where all the desks are sit-stand, it works well, so much of it is down to the culture of the company, the attitude of the users and the general housekeeping on the desk and the surroundings. Imagine trying to raise or lower your desk when the person next to you has spread their paperwork on to yours!

So training is key. Users need to know how to adjust their desks, how long they should be in different postures for, and understand what a good set-up looks like.