Is It Better To Work Standing Or Sitting?
Tyson Sewell | Last updated May 28, 2023 | Published on Apr 11, 2022
If you read at all about workplace health over the last few years, it’s understandable you might be a little bit confused. Standing at work is often touted by its acolytes as the most healthy and productive way to work – and certainly, there are some real health drawbacks to sitting for too long.
But that said, reports abound that standing for extended periods comes with its own set of health concerns. So which is it? Is it better to work standing or sitting? Or is a combination of both the way to find the right balance?
Read on and we’ll dig deeper in the sitting vs standing debate, so you can make an informed choice about how you choose to work.
Is It Healthier To Work At A Standing Desk?
If you work at a sit stand workstation, you probably know the answer to this: and it’s yes. Sit stand desks allow the user to vary their position during the day, and keep their body active and working.
It’s important to remember though that when debating standing versus sitting, both have their health benefits, and both have their own drawbacks. Sit-stand desks are so titled as they encourage the user to vary between both, rather than adopt one, position.
Is Sitting Behind Your Desk Bad For Your Health?
If you regularly have prolonged sitting time built into your workday, you could be doing yourself some real damage without even knowing it. Over the last few decades, rates of obesity, heart disease, and other lifestyle-related conditions like diabetes have gone through the roof.
And the number one cause of this public health emergency? Sitting. Well, ok that simplifies matters a little, but spending 8 hours a day sat behind a desk, combined with our otherwise often sedentary lifestyles, is undoubtedly very bad for us.
Our bodies have evolved to be active, so it’s not surprising that being still all day is bad for us: it’s unnatural. Building exercise into your routine if you don’t already is obviously crucial: but even the impact of exercise is undermined if you sit all day in between bouts.
Keeping active during the workday helps keep our systems fired up, helping to speed the metabolism, and we burn more calories standing, helping offset the negative impacts of weight gain on our health.
Why Is Standing At Your Desk Better Than Sitting?
As we answer this question, it’s important to note that although standing has some pronounced benefits, standing all day at your desk alone might not be the answer to all your troubles. There are however some big advantages to consider, as we seek to find the right balance in our workday.
Do You Think Better Sitting Or Standing?
There is a well of anecdotal evidence linking standing (and walking) to improved cognitive ability. For example, when was the last time your heard someone express they had taken a stroll to clear their mind, or heard someone claim they do their best thinking when walking?
I’d bet probably not that long ago. And nowadays it’s fairly common to hear users of standing desks get evangelical about the cognitive benefits of standing and sit stand workstations. The team here at Deskography are certainly in that camp. But should you just take their (and our) word for it?
Well, there is in fact some hard evidence linking standing to increased cognition. A 2015 study into the neurocognitive benefits of standing amongst school-age children found a marked increase in performance over a range of cognitive tasks compared to their seated peers.
Of the children studied, none of the children tested while standing did worse than their seated peers, whilst the majority returned better scores across most of the tasks assigned. They scored higher on both cognitive reasoning and memory tasks. So, the suggestion is that standing can have a positive impact on both your ability to work, and your ability to learn and retain information.
Is It Better To Sit Or Stand At A Desk?
So, standing versus sitting: which is it to be? The truth is, both have their distinct plusses and both have their own major drawbacks. Below we’ve worked through some of the key plusses and minuses of either approach.
Benefits and Risks Of Sitting At A Standing Desk
Sitting at a sit stand desk has certain benefits, but there are also some risks associated with prolonged sitting which need to be considered.
What Are The Benefits of Sitting At A Standing Desk?
Presuming you have a well-designed, ergonomic office chair, one of the key benefits of increased sitting time is the ability to take the weight off the load-bearing parts of your body: notably, your feet, legs, hips, and back.
The reason we tend to sit a lot of the time is quite simple: it’s because it’s comfortable. Sitting in a well-positioned, ergonomic chair, which is mindfully set up to make sure you are supporting the key areas of your back and neck, can be a great way to work.
With your back, lumbar area, neck and arms supported, you can relieve the strain on these overworked muscle groups. This will reduce any pain or discomfort you feel during the day, allowing you to concentrate on your job and not on your aching neck.
What Are The Risks Of Sitting At A Standing Desk?
Unfortunately, as comfortable and helpful as sitting can be in the short term, over a longer time scale sitting can have some quite serious drawbacks. Sitting for 8 hours a day is linked to an increased risk of weight gain, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and even sudden death.
Prolonged sitting is one of the key factors cited in the obesity epidemic currently cited as the greatest current public health risk, placing strain on health systems worldwide. The reason for this is that extended periods of inactivity slow the body’s systems down, which makes us less efficient at processing energy.
Inactivity slows the metabolism, the system primarily responsible for burning energy. This has a host of side effects. First, the body burns calories more slowly, which over time can cause us to gain weight.
Along with this comes an increased risk of high blood pressure, cardiovascular isssues, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. At the less severe end of the scale, sitting lowers energy levels, and can leave workers feeling sluggish and unproductive towards the end of the working day.
Benefits and Risks Of Standing At A Standing Desk
It’s clear then that although sitting has its benefits, there are some pretty clear downsides to sitting for too long that are well worth avoiding. But is standing for long periods really any better for you?
What Are The Benefits of Standing At A Standing Desk?
Standing desks are probably the number one way modern workers seek to make their desk job more active. But what are the benefits of standing?
First, it’s worth paying attention to the paragraphs above about the pitfalls of spending periods of prolonged sitting in the same position. The health benefits of standing mostly lie in the fact that standing forces your body to be more active during the day, keeping your metabolism firing.
The body reacts to the small movements you make during the day and acts accordingly, your blood flows easier, and your body maximises the calories burned during the day, and manages it’s blood sugar levels more effectively. This means that standing burns calories as you work, offsetting the major health risks associated with our increasingly sedentary lifestyles.
So, standing can help lower the risk of serious health problems associated with too much sitting, which when you think about it, stands to reason. It can also help to maintain good posture, as the standing position encourage you to strengthen your core and postural muscles as you support your own body weight.
More pertinently perhaps, standing is linked to an increase in cognitive function, as discussed earlier in this article, and can enhance cognition and boost fine motor skills. And this brain boost, combined with an increase in energy levels and blood circulation, is why many believe that standing while increases productivity.
In fact, it’s more just a belief: there are studies to back this up. Another 2015 study measuring the productivity of 167 call centre workers over 6 months found that workers who stood for at least a portion of their workday showed a 45-53% increase in productivity on average.
What Are The Risks Of Standing At A Standing Desk?
It’s pretty clear that standing for work has some definite benefits, both to our health and wellbeing, and our productivity. There are, however, certain pitfalls associated with staying on your feet for long periods too.
Standing for too long will, as we probably all know from experience, lead to a certain amount of pain and fatigue. Stiffness in the neck, back ache, shoulder strain …. these are things we already know can happen if we don’t rest occasionally.
Supporting your own weight all day inevitably places an undue amount of strain on all the parts of your body which bear your weight: so you can expect foot pain, knee pain, and even sore hips.
On top of this, the extra energy expenditure will leave you tired and fatigued at the end of the day, which conversely, can reverse some of the positive effects we listed above related to productivity and brain function.
In some very extreme cases, prolonged standing has been associated with cardiovascular problems, as the heart has to constantly fight gravity to keep blood pumping around the body.
Are Standing Desks Really Better?
We can surmise from the above that both sitting and standing have real benefits. But they also both have some pretty serious downsides if you overdo it. So, we couldn’t in good faith recommend that you prioritise one over the other.
Too much sitting puts you at risk of weight gain, related health problems, as well as postural issues. It places strain on a completely different set of muscles to those used for standing, which if overused will become sore and can become strained. The seated position also straightens out the natural curve of the spine, which can cause chronic back and neck pain.
But too much standing can cause back and neck ache too, along with muscular and joint problems, and is even associated with heart disease. The key is regularly alternate positions during the day; which is where standing desks come in.
By finding the right balance between sitting and standing, you can keep the system and metabolism fired, distribute strain between muscle groups, and maintain the cognitive uptick that goes along with it.
Basically, you aim to get all the positives of each approach, and effectively mitigate the downsides at the same time. By regularly switching from sitting to standing, and vice versa, we can prevent ourselves from being sedentary at work, whilst protecting our body from injury, and remain comfortable
Why Is It Better to Use A Standing Desk?
The reason standing desks are so effective is they allow you to change your position from sitting to standing easily throughout the workday, and alternate between sitting and standing.
Sitting too much is bad, but sometimes sitting is important, as it takes the strain off the muscle groups that support us while we stand. Changing position frequently during the day relives the strain on these muscles, and your spine.
More importantly, standing and moving around frequently keeps your metabolism firing, helping you burn fat and calories more effectively. This can aid weight loss, but more importantly help to stop you putting on weight.
Coupled with a healthy lifestyle and regular exercise, this can help stave off heart problems, diabetes, high blood pressure … the list goes on and on. Standing desks also allow you to benefit from all the brain-boosting qualities that standing can bring, without undue fatigue, or aches and pains associated with spending the entire day on your feet.
So really, the question to ask is not whether either sitting or standing at work is better. By alternating between the two, we can get all the benefits, whilst greatly minimising the impact of any downsides. If you’ve not yet joined the sit stand revolution, why not check out these standing desks and find your perfect sit stand balance. The pros of a sit stand desk will definitely let you enjoy a healthier and more productive worklife.
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