Sitting Or Standing At Work – What Is Better For Your Spine?

by: Scott Pierce (founder, blogger & ergonomic consultant)

There is a lot of talking currently on the issue of sitting and standing at work and how these 2 affect your spine. The general consensus is that sitting for prolonged periods is a potential threat to health.

But, hey, before swearing off that desk and office chair, standing isn’t a cure-all either. If you earn your living standing on your feet for hours on end, you risk suffering from long-term pain and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). To make things even worse, a recent study shows that prolonged standing could increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

So, what are your chances as an office worker? What are the advantages and disadvantages of these 2 options? Does standing save your life, really?

What is better for your spine - sitting or standing for 8 hours at your desk job
What is better for your spine – sitting or standing for 8 hours at your desk job?

Sitting For 8 Hours – How Does It Affect Your Spine?

In an era where sitting has been linked to all sorts of imaginable health conditions, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single publication on its benefits.

But let’s face it: standing isn’t fun at all. More often than not, we get stuck on our feet daily, for instance, in the banking hall waiting for a teller, in the amusement park, bus and train stations, and even in coffee shops.

Can you argue that your feet don’t hurt at these times? I guess not. It’s actually worse than walking for the same time.

Sitting, on the other hand, just feels great. In an office set up, sitting gets much better if you are using an ergonomic office or gaming chair with an adjustable height, top-notch lumbar support, and awesome armrests (read more about top office chairs).

And the good thing is that you don’t have to spend tons of money on a new one if your budget doesn’t allow; throwing a pillow on your existing seat for lumbar support could make all the difference.

But Why And How Is Sitting So Damaging?

According to reports by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four American workers spends 8+ hours seated every day. It continues to add that a sizable chunk of this time is spent sitting at the office desk.

Now, a 2017 study based on around 8,000 adults and published in Annals of Internal Medicine found out that sitting for prolonged hours is signing your early death warrant regardless of how much you exercise. And there are a lot of arguments that health experts give to support these claims.

For instance, since the human body is meant to stand upright, sitting for long hours has been found to cause slouching which leads to back pain.

Maintaining the correct posture but still sitting for prolonged hours might save you from back pains. But there are lots of other dangers that it might not prevent.

Beyond back pain, there are scientifically validated claims that sitting for long hours leads to a whole lot of health issues. This includes weight gain, heart disease, weakening and wasting of muscles, anxiety and depression, cancer, and diabetes.

Standing At Work – Its Good And Bad Side

Working while standing is the new craze and it has been claimed to have tons of health benefits. No wonder most workplaces are now embracing office furniture and equipment that promote working while standing such as standing desks.

A study conducted by a team of health researchers from the University of Chester shows that standing requires 20% more energy than sitting which results in a higher heart rate. Precisely, Dr. John Buckley, one of the researchers, states that standing for a minute burns 0.7 calories. This translates to around 50 calories per hour and 750 calories if you stand for 3 hours every day for 5 days.

In addition to reducing the risks of obesity and heart diseases, standing is also said to boost energy and mood levels as well as promoting mental health and a great memory.

Is standing better than sitting at work?
Standing for the whole day at work may lead to various diseases, just like sitting for prolonged time

The Ugly Side Of Standing For Too Long

The ever heated argument on the damage that sitting causes has led researchers to devote some attention to any possible side effects of prolonged standing. And the research findings are not only confusing but also worrying.

Previous study reports have already linked standing for too long to health issues such as long-term back pains and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

A 2017 study consisting of 7,320 participants and carried out over a period of 12 years reveals that people who stand for long hours are twice as likely to suffer from heart diseases compared to those who primarily sit.

In yet another study, researchers wanted to investigate the effects of standing on cognitive function and discomfort among 20 adults.

The researchers recorded increased discomfort levels on all body parts as well as deterioration in reaction time and mental state.

Is Standing Better Than Sitting?

Now, coverage from all the studies that we’ve touched on so far proves that prolonged sitting puts you at a higher risk of health issues. But it’s also evident that standing all day isn’t the solution and it actually presents similar effects if not worse.

At this point, researchers in a new study say that the secret is to combine a mixture of sitting and standing but in increments that suit one’s needs. This is what brings sit-stand desks into focus.

So do sit-stand desks really help in minimizing sitting in the workplace?

One study published on aimed at accessing the effectiveness of reducing workplace sitting time using different interventions such as sit-stand desks, active workstations, and walking around during breaks.

This study found out that sit-stand desks do help in reducing sitting by an average of 84-116 minutes per day.

It also concluded that treadmill desks seem to reduce sitting at work and more so when this is combined with provision of information.

Taking short breaks (1-2 minutes every hour) was also found to reduce sitting time by between 15 minutes and 66 minutes. This was much better than taking long breaks (15 minutes every day).

Lastly, counseling the employees and offering information and feedback and making a follow up of 3-12 months was found to reduce sitting time by 5-51 minutes per day.

It is best to switch from sitting and standing a few times during your work each day
It is best to switch from sitting to standing a few times during your work each day – this will help you to avoid back problems and other negative effects of sitting and standing for prolonged time

Effects Of Sitting And Standing On Employee Performance

Since it’s evident that combining sitting and standing alongside other interventions do work in reducing workplace sitting time,

I sought to understand whether employees who switch from sitting to standing throughout their shifts have better performance than those who primarily sit.

This study that involved examining the productivity of 170 employees over a period of 6 months answered all my queries.

According to the study, employees who switched from sitting to standing were 46% more productive than those who sat throughout the shift.

An important note that this study highlights is that the difference in work productivity between these 2 groups didn’t show until the end of the first month. This is because it took long for the employees to adapt to switching between sitting and standing.

Based on these highlights, it’s important to bear in mind that the benefits of combining sitting and standing aren’t felt overnight, but over a period of time. In addition, while standing may hurt at first, it requires getting used to.

By the way, I did all the research for this write-up standing- and my feet hurt. But I think it’s fun and I’m already getting used to it.

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