The research is crystal-clear: a sedentary lifestyle bears undeniable consequences on our overall health, from back problems and poor circulation to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even heart failure.
The research is crystal-clear: from back problems and poor circulation to cardiovascular disease, a sedentary lifestyle bears undeniable consequences on our overall health.
That’s bad news for those 86% of Americans chained to their desks all week.
It’s no surprise then, that alternatives to the traditional desk-and-chair arrangement have popped up in offices around the country, with standing desks and workstations being touted as the cure-all for the conditions that ail us.
Does standing all day really live up to the hype? Many researchers remain skeptical. In March 2016, the Cochrane Library released a review that analyzed twenty studies done on the subject. The review’s six authors, including Dr. Jose Verbeek of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, concluded that the research done on standing desks, and their influence on overall health, has been spotty at best.
In fact, standing all day poses its own potential health issues. Short-term effects include fatigue, leg cramps, and back pain. Over time, prolonged bouts of standing may lead to more serious problems, such as sustained muscle fatigue, enlarged veins, and podiatric issues.
Workers concerned about the health risks associated with a sedentary job need not run for their lives, however. Experts seem to be finding common middle ground in the idea that the goal is neither to sit nor stand all day, but to strike a balance somewhere in between.
So what is the optimal ratio of standing, sitting, and moving around in the office? That really depends on you:
If you need a mental pick-me-up, standing up might do the trick.
Standing keeps the mind alert, boosts mood levels, and may even get the creative juices flowing. Studies done by Organizations in MOTION, a program helmed by sports scientist Jack Groppel, showed that performing even a minor activity at 30 minute intervals increased employee’s engagement and concentration.
Walking to stretch the creative muscles isn’t a new fad. William Blake and Wordsworth were referred to as “Walking Poets” for their penchant for ambulatory musings, and political heavyweights from Thomas Jefferson to Winston Churchill were known to stand as they worked in order to improve mental performance.
If you are at risk for developing diabetes or heart disease, standing up is a must.
Standing up at regular 20-minute intervals, even for a few minutes, is key to combat some of the most serious health risks, according to Gretchen Reynolds, exercise research columnist for The New York Times. Movement gets blood circulating and stabilizes metabolism. The body's largest muscles contract, releasing enzymes that break up fat in the blood stream, using blood sugar and improving insulin levels.
Even people who regularly exercise at moderate levels need to move more at work—outside exercise isn’t necessarily enough to combat the negative physical effects of an otherwise sedentary lifestyle.
If you’re looking to burn calories or lose weight, standing alone isn’t going to cut it.
Actual weight loss requires physical exertion, an elevated heart rate, and sustained aerobic activity. Standing at a desk—or even walking on a treadmill at a pace slow enough to complete most tasks—won’t burn the calories needed to see results.
If you have pre-existing knee, foot, or lower back pain, prolonged standing may do more harm than good.
Standing still puts constant pressure on just a few muscle groups, causing fatigue in the legs and undue strain on knees and hips, exacerbating the pain.
Instead of just standing, create opportunities to walk around, which helps distribute the burden to larger groups of muscles in the leg. Building a stronger core, essential to combat back and knee pain, can be done sitting down too. Using an exercise ball instead of a chair keeps the core muscles engaged and helps with balance and flexibility.
While researchers continue to fill in the blanks on conflicting or inconclusive studies, one thing is certain: idle sitting isn’t doing anyone any favors. Luckily, creative solutions—from sit-stand desks to walking meetings to balance ball chairs—abound.
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