For years now, researchers have been sounding the alarm bells on the health hazards of occupational sitting. According to the National Institutes of Health, long periods of sitting increase risk of heart disease and death. Between working, driving, and relaxing at home, it’s not uncommon for us to spend many hours each day sitting down. The best way to reduce the health hazards of sitting? Find ways to intersperse even slight physical activity throughout your day. According to a study by the NIH, people who swapped sitting for only 30 minutes of light activity had a substantially lower risk of death. The study emphasized an important point: any amount of activity, even a small amount, can go a very long way toward combating the health hazard of long-term sitting.
Staying active in the office?
For those who work in an office, it can seem difficult or impossible to work even light physical activity into the average workday. However, one popular new trend may be surprisingly effective. The standing desk has been shown to be an effective tool for mitigating the effects of sitting and passively improving your health while hard at work. It increases energy expenditure, meaning your metabolism stays higher, more calories are burned, and your blood circulates through your body better. While the research is still mixed regarding exactly how and how much a standing desk improves your health, it certainly avoids the damage done to your health by long hours of sitting on a computer chair.
Finding your ideal ratio
Of course, the issue with the standing desk is obvious. Anyone who works on their feet all day can tell you about the discomfort it often entails. However, a person does not need to stand for the entire day to enjoy the benefits of the standing desk. It is entirely possible to alternate between sitting and standing, as your personal comfort dictates, and still improve your health. Then of course the question becomes: how much of each? Research by the NIH has found that even small amounts of activity made a big difference in the health of people who were often sedentary. In the study they performed, the group doing the smallest amount of activity swapped only 30 minutes of sitting a day with 30 minutes of light exercise. Even this tiny amount was enough to reduce risk of death. Participants in this study were tracked from 2007 and 2017 and it was found that even the light activity group had a 17% lower risk of death during this time. Furthermore, the 30 minutes of light exercise did not have to be consecutive to be beneficial. Participants could get their 30 minutes in five minute intervals, resting in between. They still benefited from the activity. However, it also found that more activity created more benefit. With this study in mind, 30 minutes of standing a day can be a good and very attainable baseline goal to improve your health. That said, more activity will generally always be more beneficial. The benefit of standing is to your health, while the benefit of sitting is to your comfort. That said, there are three main things that will determine how much standing during the workday is right for you.
The task at hand:
Some jobs may require you to do things which are more easily done from a seated position. If your job requires drawing or assembling things with your hands, you may find you are more effective sitting down.
At the end of the day, the purpose of work is to be productive. Changes of scenery or even position can help to shake things up and re-energize you enough to boost you through an additional task. Going from sitting to standing (or standing to sitting) can switch your active muscle groups and give you a fresh perspective on the task at hand. If you’re someone with a short attention span, you may find it helpful to alternate between positions frequently in order to stay engaged.
The ideal amount of standing you do during the day is essentially as much as you can tolerate without sacrifice to your comfort. If you are uncomfortable, both you and your productivity are going to suffer for it. Whenever you feel yourself starting to feel the discomfort of standing long term, there’s no reason not to take a break.
In short, the ideal ratio of sitting to standing is not a simple formula that can be applied to everyone in the same way. In order to sort it out, you may need to experiment with your own comfort levels. What’s clear is the fact that your health will be drastically improved by incorporating some physical activity into the workday. It’s up to you to decide how much that can be.