Sitting for too long is not good for you – so should you stand at work?
Sitting for long periods of time leads to joint stiffness, neck pain, back pain and postural problems – so should we all be standing at our lap tops instead of hunching over them at a desk?
Like every other question it depends – how long we do it for and the type of chair and it depends on who we are. In truth doing any one thing for too long is not good for our bodies.
The truth is that we need to keep moving – sit for a while and stand for a while is the best way to spend our day so that we don’t overload our joints and muscles.
One study found that in the workplace, productivity increased when people have the ability to sit and stand throughout the work day.
The study, conducted by researchers, examined the productivity of two groups of call-center employees, about 170 employees total, over the course of six months. One group was seated throughout the day, the other group stood up if they wanted to. By the end of the study, the employees using stand-capable workstations were about 46% more productive than the sit-only group (productivity was defined as the number of successful calls each employee completed per hour of work).
The difference in productivity between the groups was significant, but the amount of time spent sitting versus standing was less than first thought. On average, the group who could stand or sit to work actually sat for just 1.6 hours less per day than the sit-only group.
Second, the differences in productivity only started emerging after a full month of the study. It took that long for the participants to adapt to standing part of the day and figuring out what worked best. No one made overnight changes.
“One interesting result of the study is that the productivity differences between the stand-capable and seated groups were not as large during the first month,” said Gregory Garrett, M.A., a public health doctoral student and a lead author of the study. “Starting with the second month, we began to see larger increases in productivity with the stand-capable groups as they became habituated to their standing desks.”
The researchers say they also gathered data on employee discomfort and found that “nearly 75% of those working in standing mode experienced decreased body discomfort after using these desks for the six-month duration of the study.” Which also goes to the point that it takes some time to adapt to a combination of sitting and standing, and no one should go into this thinking they’ll magically adapt immediately.
The biggest issue with this study was that the group that stood more were relatively new employees (one to three months on the job), while the sit-only employees worked at the call center for a year or more. So you could argue that newer staff are more likely to benefit because they aren’t used to sitting all day..
At least, this study suggests that getting the most who could stand when they wanted requires flexibility, and it requires time to adapt. I think too often people are investing in these desks thinking they’ll quickly switch to a healthier, more productive standing worklife and then are disappointed with the results, and often give up. In reality we only need to make small changes in our lives to make big changes over a longer period of time. In an ideal world we should not be sitting or standing for too long but doing each in moderation – a bit like eating!
To summarise the findings of research into the subject:
Sitting is preferred when visually intensive or precise work is required, the activity is of a repetitive nature; longer tasks are completed (greater than 5 minutes), and when everything can be placed within easy reach.
Sitting is not appropriate when heavy objects must be handled or long reaches are required.
Sitting for long periods has been associated with a high incidence of back complaints (Mandal, 1981), increased spinal muscular activity and intradiscal pressure (Grandjean and Hunting, 1977; Lindh, 1989).
Other problems reported include discomfort in the lower extremities (Westgaard and Winkel, 1996) and increased muscle loading of the neck and shoulder muscles when sitting with the forearms unsupported as compared to standing with the forearms unsupported (Aaras et al., 1997; Lannersten and Harms-Ringdahl, 1990).
Neither static standing nor sitting for too long is recommended.
Each position has its advantages and disadvantages. Research indicates that long term sitting or standing are risk factors and that alternating work postures may be preferable. Alternation between two postures allows for increased rest intervals of specific body parts, and reduced potential for risk factors commonly associated with MSD development.
Ideally, provide workers with a workstation and job tasks that allow frequent changes of working posture, including sitting, standing, and walking. If either sitting or standing is feasible but only one possible, sitting in a properly designed chair is preferable.
Come in to see one of the chiropractors and discuss what the best exercises are for your particular problem – it will make such a difference to your working day!