How work has changed
For most of humanity up until the late 1700s we spent most of our day in the fields or tending livestock. In fact we used to spend 90% of our waking day on our feet v just 10% on our behinds [i] [ii]
As the industrial revolution rolled around and people moved to the city this all changed. In fact today we only spend 20% of our day on our feet,[iii] [iv] with the rest spent on our derrieres. In fact most people in the west now spend more time sitting than sleeping!
The big question is, have our bodies adapted to this change? We compare ‘sitting and working’ to ‘standing and working’ to see which is better for your health.
According to the American Chiropractic Association, back pain is the second most common reason people see their family doctor. It is a big problem in our society.
When a person sits the pelvis rotates posterior (backwards), which in turn flattens the spine and increases the stress on the intervertebral discs in the lower back (see image).[v] Over time this, may cause lower back pain.
Standing for long periods may also cause lower back pain.[vi] However, we have evolved to be on our feet and the spine generally responds better to standing compared with sitting.
Winner – Standing & working
Posture & the Spine
According to the Cleveland Clinic, good posture involves training the human body to use positions where the least strain is placed on supporting muscles and ligaments.
When people sit, the muscles (and fascia) at the front of the body shorten and the muscles (and fascia) at the back lengthen (see image). Over a long time the body adapts to the sitting position, which can create a C-shape in the spine. This can increase strain on supporting muscles and ligaments.[vii]
Standing does not guarantee perfect posture. However, reducing the amount of time spent sitting will reduce the chance of developing a C-Shaped spine.
Winner - Standing and working
Everything we do burns calories. The number of calories we burn each day is a major contributor to whether we gain or lose weight.
The recommended number of calories to eat each day depends on an individual’s goals, their daily activity level, weight, height, age and gender.
Standing recruits more muscles to keep the body upright, which in turn, burns more calories. As an example an average male standing for four hours a day burns 176 more calories than someone who sits for the same period. [viii]
Winner – Standing and working
Productivity (blood flow to the brain)
Productivity can be a very subjective thing to measure. It has been argued standing and working can increase productivity. One argument is that standing recruits more muscles e.g.: leg muscles and that the body responds by pushing more oxygenated blood to the muscles as well as the brain, thus aiding productivity.
Regardless of the anecdotal evidence there is no conclusive research, which suggests either ‘standing and working’ or ‘sitting and working’ is more productive. The jury is still out.
General health & wellbeing
There are a multitude of influencers that affect our physical and mental wellbeing.
Prolonged standing has been linked to varicose veins and joint pain over the longer term. On the other hand prolonged sitting has been linked to an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers[ix] and even an early death.[x] [xi]
Comparing the general health risks of sitting and working with standing and working, the former has more serious consequences.
Winner – Standing and working
And the winner is…
If you had to choose between ‘sitting at work’ or ‘standing at work’ from a health perspective then the latter would come out on top. The reality is that we do both everyday whether we like it or not.
The Australian Heart Foundation recommends adults aim to reduce the amount of sitting time. According to Prof David Dunstan, Head of Physical Activity research at Baker IDI, the adult population should “ initially progress towards accumulating 2 h/day of standing and light activity (light walking) during working hours, eventually progressing to a total accumulation of 4 h/day.” The goal is to move and change your posture regularly. [xii]
Winner – A mix of standing & sitting at working – the key is movement
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[ix] Reducing office workers’ sitting time: rationale and study design for the Stand Up Victoria cluster randomized trial. David W Dunstan†Email author, Glen Wiesner, Elizabeth G Eakin, Maike Neuhaus, Neville Owen, Anthony D LaMontagne, et al.
[x] Katzmarzyk PT, et al. Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Medicine and science in sports and exercise 2009; 41(5): 998-1005. 5.
[xi] Patel AV, et al. Leisure time spent sitting in relation to total mortality in a prospective cohort of US adults. American Journal of Epidemiology 2010; 172(4): 419-29.