You might want to sit down for this. Or maybe you should stand. It’s hard to say because two studies, taken together, have left us paralyzed with confusion:
- In the first we learned that prolonged standing on the job is more likely to lead to heart attack than prolonged sitting.
- The second tells us that prolonged sitting increases the risk of early death.
What the heck is going on? Should we just give up on trying to be healthy?
Of course not. The answer to whether to sit or stand, as usual, lies in finding an appropriate balance.
The Case Against Standing
In the first study, Canadian researchers found that people who predominantly stand all day at work put added stress on their heart. Blood tends to pool in the legs during prolonged, inactive standing, causing the heart to work harder. The result over the long term, even accounting for other factors, is a doubled risk of heart disease compared with people whose occupations involve primarily seated work.
Standing burns more calories than sitting — requiring 20% more energy — but it puts unhelpful strain on the circulatory system and the legs and feet. It increases the progression of atherosclerosis and also the risk of varicose veins. And it can even affect your work, with standing having a negative effect on fine motor skills such as typing.
The Case Against Sitting
The second, unrelated study seems to have gotten more publicity, with many stories highlighting the benefits of getting up from your chair at least once every thirty minutes. This study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, examined the effects of sitting including “total sedentary time” and “sedentary bout time” — and concluded that both were associated with a higher risk of all-cause mortality. Basically, sitting for long periods increases your risk of death. Even people who exercise regularly are put at risk by jobs that require them to remain seated for much of their work day.
As far as specific consequences, the effects of sitting for more than an hour at a time has been shown to include metabolic changes causing fat to be deposited in adipose tissue when it could otherwise be used by muscle. Extensive sitting is also related to increased risk of heart disease and kidney disease.
The Case for Sitting and Standing and Moving
So standing leads to heart disease. Sitting leads to heart disease. If we can’t do either, what else is left? Well, you can mitigate some of the negative effects by breaking your sedentary time up into short blocks.
“Both the total volume of sedentary time and its accrual in prolonged, uninterrupted bouts are associated with all-cause mortality,” the NIH study concludes, “suggestive that physical activity guidelines should target reducing and interrupting sedentary time to reduce risk for death.”
So sit less; and when you are sitting, get up at least once every half hour. And when you do get up, don’t just stand there. Move around. Have some fun.
And as for those people who have to stand all day?
“A combination of sitting, standing and moving on the job is likely to have the greatest benefits for heart health,” says Institute for Work & Health (IWH) Senior Scientist Dr. Peter Smith, who led the “standing” study. “Workplaces need to apply this message not just to workers who predominantly sit, but also — in fact, especially — to workers who predominantly stand.”
Cornell University ergonomics specialists break it down like this:
- For every twenty seated minutes, you should stand for eight minutes and move for two. Movement is key to getting blood circulating through the muscles. Vigorous exercise is unnecessary during these breaks; all you need to do is walk around a bit. The exact minute count (twenty/eight/two) doesn’t really matter so much as long as you’re getting this “posture break” at least once every half hour or so.
Make Sitting and Standing Easier by Increasing Your Fitness
Although the recommendations above do not call for vigorous exercise to get the benefits of an appropriate sit/stand balance, physical fitness — and exercise — remain important for all the usual reasons. Most specifically for our purposes here, strong muscles give you the endurance you need to both sit and stand comfortably while maintaining good posture.
So while following the advice above about finding the right balance of sitting to standing, it’s also important to incorporate active exercise into your day. Strength training is a great place to start — and a great place to start strength training is with resistance tubing.
Resistance tubing provides all the muscle-building benefits of lifting weights but with portable ease and convenience. Lightweight tubing can be tucked away in a drawer or purse and used anywhere at any time. You can even do strength training exercises with resistance tubing during your stand breaks at work.
To get started with strength training, check out these posture training kits that incorporate resistance tubing and other features for great all-around workouts.