Should I sit or stand?

Time to face reality – you are a human and you are an upright being!

As a human our skeleton has developed to support us against gravity in a standing position and as such our vertebrae, bones, discs, ligaments, tendons, muscles, etc are in their optimal position when we are standing upright and maintaining our natural spinal curves. By default, the optimal position should also be a posture that places us at least risk of injury due to the minimisation of excessive forces or overuse conditions.

Unfortunately the next dose of reality is that we are increasingly becoming more sedentary in nature – sitting at work, in the car, on the couch watching Stan or Netflix – it all adds up to you adopting a ‘non-ideal’ posture for a significant amount of your waking hours. And by doing this you certainly do place differing forces on the various hard and soft tissues of the body, and for long periods of time, which can lead to discomfort, pain and even injury.

When it comes to workplace roles that require the performance of administrative tasks or computer operation these have traditionally been performed from a seated position. Long hours each day can be spent in an office chair, one which is not always ideally suited or adjusted to the individual, and complaints of general body discomfort have not been uncommon. But times are changing.

As recent studies have shown us that a sedentary lifestyle is a major contributor to other illnesses, such as heart disease and obesity, we have started to think smarter about the positions we place our bodies in throughout the day and the amount of activity that we perform. This awareness, coupled with the availability of equipment that enables us to work in more varied postures, has meant that more of us are challenging the previous norm of ‘sitting at the computer’ all day and exploring ways in which we can perform our work tasks from a standing position.

One study that was completed several years ago now by the National Heart Foundation of Australia investigated the impact of sit-stand workstations on the amount of time employees spent sitting at the workplace. I will attach a copy of their findings to this article, or you can find it at this link – Do sit-stand workstations reduce employees’ sitting time?

The main findings in relation to time spent sitting revealed that there was a significant reduction in sitting time and significant increase in time spent standing at work in the intervention participants (sit-stand workstation) compared to those in the control condition (normal desk), who did not change much. This equated to around one hour less of sitting and an hour more of standing per day while at work.

So how much time should you spend in sitting or standing throughout the day? This is a question that I find myself being asked more frequently during the ergonomic assessments that I am performing – and the reality is that there is no definitive answer. In my opinion what is more important is to implement a regular rotation of postures throughout the working day so that the body has the opportunity to move and stretch and not be forced into compromised postures for extended periods.

So instead of specifying exact times I suggest that everyone should consider their working posture on a ‘Sitting vs Standing Continuum’ – at one end you are sitting all day and at the other end you are standing all day – nobody should spend their days at either end of the spectrum but should instead float somewhere in the middle depending on their personal preference and their ‘body status’ at the time (by ‘body status’ I am referring to whether they are managing any specific physical or functional issues (e.g. tightness or stiffness in soft tissues or joints), or trying to address any specific injuries that are causing pain or discomfort). And this could change from day to day also – one day you might feel like sitting more, the next day standing more. As a general rule I would suggest avoiding doing either sitting or standing for big chunks of time – it would be far better to sit for 30-40 minutes then stand for 20-30 minutes every hour than it would be to sit for 4 hours then stand for 3 hours.

Some other good advice that comes from the aforementioned study is in relation to developing a ‘sit less / stand more’ culture – I will leave you with the following suggestions to think about implementing throughout your own working day:

• Using the stairs instead of the lift

• Standing and taking a regular break from your computer, such as every 30 minutes. utilise software to prompt you

• Taking a standing break during meetings, or trying a standing or walking meeting – they tend to be shorter too

• Standing to greet a visitor to your workspace

• Walking to a colleague’s desk instead of phoning or emailing

• Drinking more water – going to the water cooler and toilet will break up sitting time

• Using headsets or the speaker phone during teleconferences to allow standing

• Eating lunch away from the desk

• Standing at the back of the room during presentations.

• Provision of height adjustable meeting room tables

• Installing height adjustable ‘hot-desks’ that employees can share

• Consider using a sit-stand workstation or height adjustable desk, in lieu of a traditional desk.

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