People + Process = Performance

What’s Wrong With The Current Focus And Studies Regarding Prolonged Sitting


From I came across an interesting presentation from a researcher, Dr. Karen Messing, with the Institute of Work and Health which is based in Canada.  She wrote a book called Pain and Prejudice:  What Science Can Learn about Work from the People Who Do It.  What I found most interesting was the time she devoted to the prejudice of studies on prolonged sitting.  The following are highlights from her presentation (starting at the 13:51 mark) that I think deserve greater attention from those who are trying to counteract the negative effects of prolonged sitting, myself included.  It was apparent to me after listening to her presentation that there are some definite caveats to the prolonged sitting studies that we must be aware of—as the cure that is being prescribed these days (“just stand” in the office) may be worse than the disease (prolonged sitting).


Here are the interesting points that I noted from her presentation:

1.      In North America, 45% of workers work stand more than 75% of the time and of those, only 13% of them can sit at will.

2.      Studies of prolonged sitting often compare it with “standing” without examining the standing posture more closely.  Her point was if studies compare prolonged sitting to dynamic standing (i.e. walking, carrying, bending, leaning, etc.) then prolonged sitting will, of course, be much worse.  However, if both static postures would be compared the supposed clear benefit of standing nearly goes away.

3.      Gender differences.  Overall it has been shown that women who stand are more likely to be static and unable to move around at work while men are more likely to be able to move around more at work.  Adjusting for gender without measuring static standing can result in underestimating the effects of static standing.  In addition, the mixing of dynamic standing with static standing, i.e. walking and standing, can and does make standing look better than sitting. (Messing Stock Cote Tissot JOEH 2015)

4.      The concept of constraint is very important, since workers who feel and are free to vary their working posture can protect themselves from the negative effects of prolonged sitting and standing.  Unfortunately, many studies don’t distinguish between constrained or unconstrained (or work and non-work postures) which can lead to underestimating the effects of constrained static standing.


Based upon everything that I have read, it is apparent to me that the key for health, comfort and productivity at work is for workers to be able to move and alter their posture, either as part of the design of the job or simply when they want to.  Dr. Messing’s presentation and the above points that she presented have further solidified my beliefs.  In a word, the best advice for all is simply to “MOVE!”