Are Standing Desks Just As Bad As Sitting?

An Australian study conducted in 2008 reported that every hour we sat watching television after the age of 25 reduced the viewers life expectancy by 21.8 minutes. Add this to the fact that the average person sits for 12-13 hours per day, it doesn’t make for good reading.

So what is it about sitting that is so bad for you? Well first there’s the poor position it puts your body into. The constant hip flexion, rounded shoulder and forward head tilt.

Secondly there’s the reduced blood flow to many tissues in the lower body that causes massive health risks AND the fact that simply sitting there we are burning almost no calories in doing so; not good in an obesity epidemic!

Not to mention the fact that sitting too much massively reduces cognitive function. Trust me, the list goes on and on.

So what’s the solution?

Well logically, many believe it to be remove the chair completely and go to a standing desk, and this has some obvious benefits;

- This takes us out of that slouched position that promotes ‘bad posture’

- Standing burns more calories which would be beneficial for weight management.

- Less restricted blood flow to the lower body.

However this may not solve all of our sedentary lifestyle problems, and here’s why.

First of all we must remember that the move for workers to sit in chairs came from the standing injuries created by post-industrial standing all day factory work - standing has it’s risks, just like sitting does. It isn’t solving the issue of lack of movement.

The human body is designed to move constantly, every day. Whether we are standing in a stationary position all day or sitting, many of the same negative effects occur on the body. We’ve all heard of plaque clogging our arteries from a bad diet. Well a bad movement diet has the same effect.

Less movement, less blood flow, increase plaque build up in our arteries, increased risk of heart disease. Moving your body and creating different forces through the body and therefore creating varying pressures for blood flow should now seem an obvious necessity.

Lack of movement also brings about a decrease in muscle size, reduction in our proprioceptive system (knowing where body parts are in relation to eachother- not good if you play sport!) and reduction in bone mass. (Read: increased risk of bone breaking and falling as we get older.)

The body operates under a ‘use it or lose it’ rule when it comes to joints, tissues surrounding joints and range of motion. Both sitting and standing put us in what is known as ‘chronic positioning’, that is, the frequent use of the same position over and over again.

Due to our bodies effectiveness and saving energy it makes these positions ‘easier’ to maintain by adapting our tissues to be strong in these positions. Clever isn’t it? Well in a sense yes, but also no.

Tissues that spend most of the time in one position will adapt to that position by making alterations fairly permanent. This means moving out of these positions and into other ones much more challenging.

Not a problem when you are at work in your familiar standing or sitting position. Big problem when you get on with life outside of that and needs to adopt a multitude of other positions.

So if we can’t sit and can’t stand then what do we do? A moving desk would be the best answer, however I’m not sure these exist yet. If they do then I imagine they are also probably ludicrously expensive!

So, move yourself.

Obviously this can’t be a continual flowing dance throughout the day because you’d never get work done and likely be sacked. But every 15-20 minutes slightly adjust your position.

Move from sitting to squatting. Squatting to standing. Standing to kneeling. Just find a new position, spend some time there, then switch. Those changes to tissue that your body made over the last decade aren’t fully permanent, but they do need some focused attention to re-adapt.

You may get a few funny looks at first. But I’d choose funny looks over chronic back pain and an early grave any day!

Mark Hallam

Mark is a movement specialist, nutritionist and Health coach that has an enormous passion to help make everyone he works with healthier. In his opinion, a healthier life is a better life and he aims to inspire and educate his clients to take care of the way they move, breathe, eat, sleep, train and recover to ensure they are getting the most out of their bodies.

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