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Sitting versus Standing – Should You Buy a Standing Desk?

There is much discussion of late about our topic.  There is mounting evidence indicating you have an increased risk of diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease and early death by spending too much time sitting for leisure, at work and during your commute.

This is not a new revelation. Bernardino Ramazzini, a physician back in the 1600’s advised people to break up sitting and to stand more in order to stimulate blood flow when working.

It is just so comfortable to sit nowadays due to technological and ergonomic advances. In Australia we adults now sit for an average of nearly nine hours a day. This is longer than most people spend sleeping.

So, does evidence support buying a standing desk?

Most people find that their back and neck gets sore when they sit too long. As we can feel these effects we can relate to them, however it is what you cannot feel or see that you may need to be concerned about.

Dr Peter Katzmarzyk , a Canadian researcher found that people who sat almost all of the time had nearly a one-third higher risk of early death than those who stood almost all of the time.

Dr Emmanuel Stamatakis conducted a study on women in the United Kingdom whose work involved mostly standing/walking and found that about had a 32% lower risk of early death than those who worked in sitting jobs.

Standing burns more calories and involves more muscular contraction than sitting for the average adult. A study conducted by O’Sullivan reported 2.5 times higher average muscular activity of the thigh when standing compared to when sitting. This is imperative for improving blood sugar profiles and vascular health, reducing the risk of early death.

It is pretty important to note that prolonged standing can also have adverse health effects. Compared to sitting, when we stand, our hearts and circulatory systems work harder to maintain blood flow to the brain, because they are countering the effects of gravity. Standing still for long periods of time can lead to swelling, heaviness or cramping of the legs advised the IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute.

So then, if standing still for too long is potentially risky, what should you do?

To obtain the health benefits of standing and reduce the potential adverse effects, the best option is to alternate between sitting and standing. The message is to stand up, sit less and most importantly move more frequently.

Recent findings by Howard and Owen from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne show that alternating between 30 minutes of sitting and standing can improve blood sugar levels after a meal. Alternating between sitting and standing will increase muscular contractions, stimulating blood flow and resulting in more calories burnt and healthier blood sugar levels.

Some people have expressed concern with their concentration and productivity levels if they have a standing desk. They need not worry as research indicates task performance such as typing, reading and performing cognitive tests is largely unaffected by standing desks. The likes of Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Virginia Woolf, and Ernest Hemingway used standing desks.

If you are still not ready for a stand-up desk try these tips to help get you alternate between sitting and standing:

  • Take regular breaks from your desk
  • Stand up on public transport
  • Take regular pit stops if driving long distances
  • Choose more active ways to hang out with friends (swap the cafe for a walk)
  • Stand at the bar instead of sitting on the comfy couches
  • Have standing meetings (they usually end faster)
  • Stand up when on the phone
  • Stand up during commercial breaks while watching television