Whether to stand or sit at work has become a no-brainer for many companies. Because of research that says standing is healthier than sitting, companies are now employing state-of-the-art standing-sitting desks that allow employees to stand or sit, but with the added emphasis on standing as much as possible. If you mostly stand during your work day, you might be just a little bit relieved when reading many of the news articles indicating that sitting at a desk for hours can eventually cause life-threatening health conditions. But guess what? There is now some newer research suggesting that standing too much at work could be just as concerning for your health as sitting too much. Because many haven’t yet heard much about this 2017 research, let’s take a look.
Stand or Sit at Work – New Research
Taking place at the Institute for Work and Health in Toronto, Canada, this particular study found that people in occupations requiring mostly standing for hours may have as much as twice (2x) the risk of developing heart disease as their peers who sit in a chair for a similar length of time. The results, gathered from the responses of 7,320 employed men and women participating in the Canadian Community Health Survey, were a bit surprising.
It is important to note that before the study none of the participants had a previous diagnosis of cardiovascular disease. Yet, during the 12 years in which the participants were tracked, quite a few participants did develop cardiovascular disease. Those working as cashiers, cooks, bank tellers, retail sales clerks, and other such jobs, involving standing on one’s feet for hours, were twice as likely to develop heart disease than those working in occupations in which they mainly remained seated. And the results remained the same even after the researchers controlled for an assortment of influences including age, body mass index, marital status, education level, and health issues like hypertension and diabetes.
Are you puzzled yet? Do studies like this seems like a “damned if you do and damned if you don’t” type of situation? Stay with me here – let’s go a bit further in our discussion of this fairly new study.
Research has already told us that damage to health is done by sitting for long periods of time. The University of Queensland in Australia found in 2011 that too much sitting is linked to diabetes and heart disease. Research done in 2001 at the University of Calgary in Canada indicates that a copious amount of sitting is linked with cancer. So the normal question might be why is standing, which burns approximately 50 more calories an hour and seems instinctively healthier than sitting, would be worse for the body, at least from a cardiac viewpoint?
The issue is most likely a result of gravity. Standing for long periods of time tends to allow the blood to pool in the legs which can lead to bulging varicose veins. This pooling of blood must then make its way back to the heart which can place greater pressure on the veins along the way. Over a period of time this can weaken the walls of the veins, damage their valves, and even contributing to the cause of heart disease.
There are much fewer types of jobs that necessitate people to stand all day than sit. In the current research, less than 10 percent of the volunteers worked in standing occupations, versus approximately 37 percent who mostly sat while on the job. The remainder of participants had jobs that alternated to some extent between standing, sitting, and walking.
Stand or Sit at Work – It’s About Balance
If you are among those who spend your work hours on your feet, from a health perspective, it is best to incorporate both sitting and walking. If you have a standing-only desk, request a higher chair in order to take the weight off your legs while you appear to be standing. Another solution is to work out a schedule with your fellow employees in which, at least during slower periods, you take shifts standing and sitting to do your work.
Whether your job incorporates mostly standing or sitting, it’s healthier to sit down for a while or take a walk for a couple of minutes every hour or so. For those who mostly sit, a couple of laps around your place of business, even for just a couple of minutes can make a big difference. It pumps blood against gravity and moves it out of your legs. If you have difficulty in moving more during the day, try walking before work, during your lunch break and a walk or bike ride after your work day. This will undo some of the damage of sitting all day. Add some strength training to help keep your muscles strong, and don’t forget some stretching exercises after a long day on your feet.
As with most things concerning good health, it’s about balance. Certainly if one is experiencing lift-threatening health issues, then it becomes more about implementing more robust solutions. We were created to sit and to stand – both for different reasons, but equally important. Health-wise it is best, as much as possible, to give each equal time. Be mindful of how much you are sitting and how much you are walking. Make needed adjustments where necessary. And as always, never forget the importance of a healthy, plant-based diet.
Research and Resources
Smith, Peter; et al. “The Relationship Between Occupational Standing and Sitting and Incident Heart Disease Over a 12-Year Period in Ontario, Canada.” American Journal of Epidemiology. 27 September 2017. Accessed 22 October 2018.
Healy, Genevieve N.; et al. “Sedentary time and cardio-metabolic biomarkers US adults: NHANES 2003-06.” European Heart Journal. 11 January 2011.
Friedenreich, Christine. “Observational and Experimental Evidence for the Role of Physical Activity in Cancer Control.” American Institute for Cancer Research. 4 November 2011. Accessed 22 October 2018. http://www.aicr.org/assets/docs/pdf/research/rescon2011/Friedenrich-2011-Approved.pdf