“Sitting Disease”–Yes, But Don’t Forget About “Standing Disease”
Standing has become the thing (preferred posture) to do at the office these days thanks to all of the attention and hype on “Sitting Disease”. When working with office-based clients the question that always comes up from the office manager is how they can cost effectively provide standing workstations since the majority of their workers are now requesting standing workstations. When I teach my office ergonomics class on “How to make your workstation fit like a glove” I always get questions about standing workstations and sitting disease. Based upon the questions I receive during the class and in talking to individual employees during their ergonomic workstation evaluation it is clear that they have read about sitting disease and are convinced that sitting will kill them, and because of that want and sometimes demand to have standing workstations. My response to office managers and workers alike is to stop and take a fair and balanced look at both sitting and standing.
“Sitting disease” is a relatively new phenomenon. In my article, Sitting Disease: Fact, Fiction or Hype, I reviewed some of the research behind sitting disease and offered an educated opinion on whether every office worker needs a sit-stand station. Since I already discussed sitting disease I won’t go into detail about it in this blog. Suffice it to say that as humans we were not built to sit in place all day long, day after day. Our bodies will experience negative affects if our work and lifestyle outside of work is sedentary. However, the same can be said for standing! Our bodies were not made to stand in place all day long, day after day.
Standing at work has been studied and many research papers published on the negative effects of prolonged standing. The one positive effect of standing that is continuously cited in articles about sitting disease and their recommendation for standing at work is the increase in calories burned. There is no question that standing burns more calories than sitting. However, just like in prolonged sitting there are several negative effects associated with prolonged standing. Here is a list of some of them:
- Swelling in the lower legs and feet
- Varicose veins
- Painful feet and legs
- Foot problems (bunions, corns, orthopedic changes to the feet, i.e. “flat feet”)
- Heart and circulatory problems
- Musculoskeletal back pain
- Arthritis in hips and knees
- Stiffness in neck and shoulders
What Does This Mean?
So now there is research that tells us prolonged sitting and prolonged standing is bad for our health. For workers who sit all day, they can’t wait to stand up and move. For workers who stand all day, they can’t wait to sit down and take a load off their feet. So what’s the answer? It comes down to the saying that is used to describe the balance of many things in life and that is “Everything in moderation”! The answer is to provide opportunity for workers who sit predominately to stand and walk, and for workers who stand predominately to sit and rest. Does this mean that all office workstations have to be sit-stand? No. It just means that workers should be able to stand up and move around during their work day. This could be done at their desk, i.e. standing up when talking on the phone, walking to the water cooler and back, etc. Another option is to have one area of their desk set at a standing height for them to use to alternate their posture such activities such as reviewing documents, taking notes while on phone conversations, etc. A sit-stand workstation is definitely nice but the two previous suggestions make posture changes possible at very minimal to virtually no cost. The bottom line for sitting or standing posture continues to be the following: Your best posture is your NEXT posture.
- McCulloch J. Health risks associated with prolonged standing. Work, vol.19, no.2, pages 201-5, 2002
- Messing K and others. Pain associated with prolonged constrained standing: The invisible epidemic. In: Occupational health and safety: International influences and the “new” epidemics, Eds. Chris L Peterson and Claire Mayhew, Baywood, 2005. ISBN 0-89503-303-8
- Tüchsen F, Krause N and others. Standing at work and varicose veins, Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, vol.2 no.5, pages 414-20, 2000
- Lisa Dasinger, Krause N, Brand R, Kaplan GA , Salonen JT. Percent time at work in an upright posture associated with 11 year change in systolic blood pressure. Paper presented to the 4th International Conference on Work Environment and Cardiovascular Diseases under the auspices the International Congress of Occupational Health (ICOH), Newport Beach, California, USA, March 9-11 2005
- Preventing Work-related injuries: Standing on the Job. Canadian Women’s Health Network, www.cwhn.ca/node/40808, accessed 3/19/2012.