Are you sitting while you’re reading this article? Most people spend the majority of their waking hours sitting, whether it’s at work, while watching television, perusing the Internet, reading a book, driving or eating.
Thanks to modernization and technological advancements in recent decades, many of today’s occupations place few physical demands on workers. Unfortunately, progress has its disadvantages. Sitting for prolonged periods causes biochemical changes in the body that negatively impact blood glucose control, lead to deposits of fat in adipose tissue, and decrease the body’s ability to break down fats in the blood and make them available as fuel for muscles. These changes increase your risk of weight gain, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and shortened life expectancy. Being sedentary is also linked to higher risks for depression and some forms of cancer.
People whose job requires at least four hours of standing in place, such as machine operators, are not necessarily better off. Standing does provide some benefits such as a small increase in the amount of calories burned (roughly 50 more calories per hour) compared to sitting, which adds up over time. John Buckley of the University of Chester in the U.K. estimates that standing for three hours per day instead of sitting can burn enough calories to lose up to eight pounds of fat in a year without changing any other aspects of your lifestyle. In his small (10 participants) study on sitting versus standing, he also noted that blood glucose levels returned to normal more quickly after a meal in participants who stood for at least three hours per day compared to those who did not. http://tinyurl.com/yc9fhkbr
So is the solution to our sedentary lifestyle to get up and stand? Some health experts currently believe that standing for prolonged periods is worse for your health than sitting. Standing puts a strain on circulation; as blood pools in your legs, there’s pressure on the body to pump the blood back to the heart which can increase the risk of heart disease. Standing for long periods can also cause varicose veins. Standing is more tiring and can cause back pain. A long-term Canadian (2017) study of 7,320 participants found that people who work in standing jobs have twice the risk of developing heart disease as people whose jobs mainly involved sitting.
The study also found that men who had jobs that combined sitting, standing and walking had a significantly reduced risk of heart disease but, surprisingly, women in combination jobs had a significantly increased risk. The author suggests that this latter finding may be due to the more stressful types of jobs of the female respondents, such as childcare workers and nurses, but more study is needed to pinpoint the causes.
Some workplaces provide adjustable-height workstations that enable workers to perform their duties, such as working on a computer, while standing. The thinking was that standing now and then throughout the day would reduce the potential health risks of sitting. However, ergonomic and occupational health specialists have discovered that users tend to lean on the stand-up desk which increases the risk of carpal tunnel’s syndrome. They also found that workers tend to lose interest in standing. Therefore, the cost of the sit-stand adjustable workstations is not cost-effective and the health benefits are just not there. Even fancy, more expensive workstations that include a treadmill or bicycle pedals have not proven to deliver significant health benefits; at least, there aren’t sufficient long-term studies to support that notion. And researchers have noted that putting such equipment in workers’ cubicles does not mean they’ll use it on a regular basis.
Depending what you read, there are researchers who believe that as long as you get in some regular exercise, sitting for prolonged periods isn’t a health risk; others believe that no amount of exercise can undo the damage that occurs with prolonged sitting. It’s a challenge figuring out what’s really best when the scientists can’t agree.
I try to go with a common sense approach: Move more. Whether it’s on the job or in your non-working hours try to incorporate as much physical activity (in addition to workouts, sports or fitness classes) throughout the day as possible. That might mean taking the stairs, walking while talking on the phone, going upstairs or downstairs to talk to your teenager rather than texting, or walking rather than driving to the community mailbox. We were designed for movement, so let’s do it.