It’s been well documented that sitting all day is very bad for your health. Unfortunately, so is too much standing.
One of the serious concerns with the global adoption of sit-stand workstations is that poorly trained sit stand desk users may just replace their past habit of permanent sitting with a future habit of permanent standing. This will just bring a whole new set of health risks.
So, what are those risks?
Spinal height has been found in research to be reduced more significantly when working in a standing position compared to sitting.
Studies have also found that back pain is reported to increase with prolonged standing at work versus sitting. This issue is reported to be worst when the standing is done at a workstation that does not offer the worker any opportunity, at all, to sit.
Lower limb and foot discomfort is also reported with prolonged standing at work as compared to sitting. This issue appears to be vascular in origin (related to circulation).
Research has found a significant association between the amount of standing at work and the progression of carotid artery wall thickening. Studies have also found that men with carotid artery narrowing or ischemic heart disease were especially vulnerable to the adverse effects associated with prolonged standing at work.
Chronic venous disease is a common disorder that affects the veins of the legs. If the valves within the veins do not work properly, blood can pool in the legs increasing the pressure in the veins. Symptoms of chronic venous disease include varicose veins, leg swelling and leg pain.
Standing (and sitting) for too long without moving can decrease blood flow out of the legs and result in increased pressure on the veins. A 2007 study that examined multiple risk factors for the development of chronic venous disease in office workers found that while prolonged sitting and standing are both risk factors, standing was a greater risk than sitting.
Other studies have also found varicose veins associated with prolonged standing at work. Furthermore, a large, prospective Danish study in 2005 found that workers standing or walking at least 75% of their working time were significantly more likely to be hospitalized for varicose veins than other employees. The authors concluded:
“This prospective study confirms that prolonged standing at work constitutes an excess risk of hospital treatment due to varicose veins and accounts for more than one fifth of all cases of working age”.
The authors went on to recommend that standing and walking at work should be limited and alternate with other positions such as sitting.
Given that both prolonged standing and prolonged sitting have their own risks, it’s important that a habit of prolonged sitting is not simply substituted in the future for a new habit of long periods of standing. We need to find the optimal balance between these two postures.
The benefits of a sit-stand workstation lie in the ability to adjust work positions regularly through the day from sitting to standing and back again. This is why sit stand reminder software, that helps sit stand desk users regularly transition between postures, is an essential add-on to get the maximum health benefits from your new sit stand desk and to avoid simply substituting one risk (sitting all day) with another (standing too much).