To Sit or to Stand?
In 2020, workers spent an average of 4.25 hours of the workday standing, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—that’s about 57% of the day standing and 43% sitting. However, the numbers vary drastically by occupation. Workers in food preparation and serving-related roles spent around 97% of their day standing. Those in computer and mathematical occupations spent around 87% of their day sitting (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).
With over 40% of injuries claimed through workplace accident claims being musculoskeletal, understanding the health risks of sitting and standing and learning how to optimize these working positions is key to maximizing your health and wellness at work.
Prolonged Sitting is Bad for Your Health
Even when positioned ergonomically, prolonged sitting in general is bad for your health. Experts say it’s not enough to just be physically active. Even those who meet the recommended public health guidelines for physical activity are still likely to be sitting for a majority of their day. How sedentary time is accumulated, rather than just the overall length of sedentary time, makes a difference.
Evidence from a study by Katzmarzyk et al. (2009) suggests that the greater daily time spent sitting in major activities is associated with elevated risks of mortality from all causes as well as cardiovascular disease. There is a strong link between sitting and obesity, metabolic syndrome, and incident type-2 diabetes, even with those who are physically active.
Taking regular breaks can help interrupt continuous sitting time. You should be getting up at least once every half hour to walk around, stretch, and change positions to allow your upper extremities, eyes, back, and neck to rest. You can take microbreaks, breaking every ten minutes for 15 seconds. Allow yourself to drop your hands from your work, stretch, and breathe. Take breaks before you feel the need for them, take them at convenient moments in between workflow, and switch up your tasks to create variation in your posture.
What You Should Know About Standing
If you have the option to stand for periods of time throughout your workday, it could potentially have benefits for your health. It allows you to switch out of prolonged sitting, and this change in position can help you refocus and boost productivity. Employees who opt to purchase sit-stand workstations should be aware that any sustained positioning has risk factors, including the possibility to develop musculoskeletal disorders. Not only is standing not always realistic or appropriate for the job, but it can also be hard on your body.
Experts agree that you should not be standing for the whole day. Standing for too long can lead to lower back pain and increase your risk for certain cardiovascular problems. According to a research study by Jack Callaghan, Canada Research Chair in Spine Biomechanics and Injury Prevention, 50% of participants who were asked to stand at an ergonomic desk for two consecutive hours developed low back pain. None had previously suffered from back pain, and those who experienced pain were more likely to experience chronic back problems later (University of Waterloo).
Like those who sit for a majority of their day, those who stand also need to make movement a priority in their day. Workers should be stretching and switching their positions every 15-20 minutes. Those who stand at work should not be standing for more than four hours cumulatively. For those who purchase a sit-stand workstation, they should find one that moves effortlessly between modes and that they can apply proper ergonomic principles to, whether in the sitting or standing position.
What Can Employers Do?
- Encourage employees to take regular breaks to get up and move.
- Be knowledgeable about proper ergonomic principles. Share this knowledge with your team by accessing virtual ergonomic webinars and tip sheets.
- Facilitate ergonomic assessments for your employees.
- Ensure that proper equipment is ordered and set up for employees working from home or the office.
What Can Employees Do?
- Modify specific seated behaviours so that they can be performed while standing. For example, watch tv or take phone calls while standing.
- Apply proper ergonomics to both your standing and sitting positions.
- Incorporate walking into your day as much as possible, whether it is before work, after work, or during breaks.
- Replace sedentary activities with more physical activities or reward yourself with sedentary hobbies once you have achieved your standing goals for the day.
- Problem solve barriers to standing (e.g., fatigue, pain, work demands, mood, social pressure, weather).
- Redesign your environment to encourage walking. Store items in another area of your office, move your printer from your desk, etc.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Civilian workers spent an average of 57.3 percent of the workday standing in 2020 at https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2021/civilian-workers-spent-an-average-of-57-3-percent-of-the-workday-standing-in-2020.htm (visited March 25, 2021).
University of Waterloo, “How long should you stand – rather than sit at your work station?”, Retrieved March 25, 2021, https://uwaterloo.ca/kinesiology/how-long-should-you-stand-rather-sit-your-work-station
Gowan Consulting Webinar “To Sit or to Stand…That is the Question.”