You may be aware of the mounting evidence that tells us how sitting is damaging our health. A recent publication tells us the scary fact
‘Sitting for more than six hours a day increases our risk of death within the next 15 years by 40%’ [1 2 3]
‘The bad news is that research findings advise that the adverse effects of sitting for extended periods is not counteracted by taking plenty of exercise.’ 
Sitting for more than 1 hour has been shown to induce biochemical changes in fat and glucose metabolism and studies2 found that extended sitting can lead to increased risk of:
- heart disease
- kidney disease
- cardiovascular disease.
So what’s the answer?
Increasingly one of the main solutions being presented is to stand more during the day; hence the increasing use and promotion of expensive sit-to stand (adjustable height) desks that enable people to vary their working position between standing and sitting.
The expert group commissioned in 2015 by Public Health England recommended that office workers stand for between 2 – 4 hours every day. This would certainly ensure people sit less, but is this advice taking into account the impact of extended periods of standing?
The evidence says otherwise
We are beginning to see evidence questioning the wisdom of this advice. The perils of standing to work have long been known, putting a strain on the circulatory system, causing varicose veins and field studies have found standing to work reduces performance of fine motor skills.
The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society among others identify a number of adverse effects on health of standing for extended periods including[5 6]:
- leg cramps
- sustained muscle fatigue leading to long term health problems such as back pain and musculoskeletal disorders
Are adjustable desks the answer?
The growing use of sit-to-stand desks as a solution is also being questioned as research is not demonstrating a clear health improvement. A BMJ article in March 2017 cites an evidence review that found sit-to-stand desks offer little evidence of health benefits and concludes that
‘it is unclear if standing can repair the harms of sitting’.
Cornell University field studies found that users tend to stand for decreasing amounts of time and most people end up sitting all the time. They also note that when standing to work there are issues about remaining in the correct position and a tendency to lean on the desk that can lead to wrist and upper limb disorders. And of course you can be just as inactive as sitting if you are standing in one position for long periods.
To sit or to stand that is the question…
Well the good news is there is a simple and inexpensive solution to counteract the adverse affects on our health of working in one position for extended periods. A solution that commentators and researchers seem to agree on. The key is to avoid remaining in any one position for extended periods and to move little and often. The jury is out on exactly how often and how long we need to do this but the consensus seems to be that –
‘standing and moving for a few minutes at least twice in every hour (or every 20 minutes) goes a long way to counteract the effects of remaining in one position’ 
This can easily be built into your working day by –
- walking to the printer
- frequent drinks and trips to the ladies or gents
- take the stairs,
- go to see colleagues rather then sending emails
There is also software available that will remind you to take breaks and many are free!
There are of course other strategies that will also help such as correct seating and positioning at your workstation (sitting or standing), alternating your working position across the day, changing tasks and taking a lunch break away from your desk, but the one really effective solution is to make sure that you get up from your desk and move little and often.
- “Leisure Time Spent Sitting in Relation to Total Mortality in a Prospective Cohort of US Adults.” Alpa V. Patel, Leslie Bernstein, Anusila Deka, Heather Spencer Feigelson, Peter T. Campbell, 5 Susan M. Gapstur, Graham A. Colditz, and Michael J. Thun. Am J Epid Published online July 22, 2010 (DOI: 10.1093/aje/kwq155)
- Sitting Kills, Moving Heals: How Simple Everyday Movement Will Prevent Pain, Illness, and Early Death – and Exercise Alone Won’t, Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division Quill Driver Books; 1 edition (November 3, 2011)
- Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis Aviroop Biswas, BSc; Paul I. Oh, MD, MSc; Guy E. Faulkner, PhD; Ravi R. Bajaj, MD; Michael A. Silver, BSc; Marc S. Mitchell, MSc; and David A. Alter, MD, PhD Annals of Internal Medicine, January 19, 2015
- John P Buckley, et al. The sedentary office: a growing case for change towards better health and productivity. Expert statement commissioned by Public Health England and the Active Working Community Interest Company. Br J Sports Med, published Online First 1 June 2015. Doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-094618
- Sit-stand desks offer little evidence of health benefits, review Ingrid Torjesen BMJ 2016;352:i1595 doi: 10.1136/bmj.i1595 (Published 17 March 2016)
- Cornell University Ergonomics web Department of Design and Environment Analysis, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA http://ergo.human.cornell.edu/CUESSitStand.html