As we continue to uncover the apparent dangers of chronic sitting, aka the sitting epidemic, more and more people are turning to stand up desks as a better option for spending their time at the office. As it so often happens, our reactionary journey is seemingly logical. We tried to improve our chairs and create more ergonomic desks and set ups with better monitors and keyboards. This now quite huge industry has helped but didn’t really solve the problem. So we’ve taken the next logical step: If sitting is so bad for us then standing must be the answer. However, as is typical of my thinking on stuff like this, the answer is a probably a bit more nuanced and different than most people want in this “just give me the simple fix” world.
In The Sitting Paradox I shared my basic thoughts on sitting. Let’s build on that a bit and share a little more detail on the problem of sitting…
First things first: sitting is not a problem in and of itself.
Sitting in a passive state, with poor posture, without changing positions for long periods of time is a problem. Particularly when exercise and good fitness are not addressed elsewhere.
So it often does end up that people who sit down for their work suffer from the negative effects of sitting. But it’s not technically the act of sitting that does it. The problem is that that they don’t practice good sitting hygiene.
So is the answer to get an elevated desk and stand up all day?
Possibly for some but not really for most. Standing up removes the passive and hip flexed position from sitting but doesn’t deal with some of the most problematic factors.
The biggest problems that office workers (or anyone really) face are the following:
- Bad posture
- No movement
- Long periods of time in one position
- Lack of corrective exercise to combat the body’s adaptations to the above problems
So standing up changes the position away from the hips being bent (which is a good thing) but doesn’t solve the bad posture, no movement and long periods of time in one position problems without corrective habits to combat them. Standing in one position for hours at a time, all day every day, has it’s own set of problems that are related to these issues. Back, neck, shoulder, feet and circulation issues (among others) are major concerns for people who stand up for long periods of time. It’s a lot of work to stand up all day which is both a good and bad thing. The longer you stand the more energy you expend but subsequently the worse you stand as they body gets tired and you start to make major compensations and adjustments. Actually, I think that simply changing to standup desks almost guarantees a standing epidemic is not too far around the corner. Now, hopefully standing up all day makes it easier to move around and have good posture and spend less time in one position but there’s no guarantees.
The answer to the sitting (or standing) problem is to address the real issues.
- Bad posture: this requires attention and practice but really pays dividends. Having good posture and being an active sitter or stander is what really keeps the body from adapting bad habits and musculoskeletal problems.
- No movement: Anything, foot tapping or leg shaking, or ab and glute squeezing, that keeps the body moving and circulating helps.
- Long periods of time in one position: Simple… change positions. If you sit regularly, then just stand up whenever you can and sit in different ways. If you stand all day, then sit down whenever you can and stand in different ways throughout the day.
- Lack of corrective exercise: Work on the muscles that keep you posture strong and care for those that get tired. Don’t multiply a day of hunched over sitting with ab crunches, pushups and spin class. Add some simple stretches into your day to lengthen out some of the commonly tight muscles and some simple exercises to strengthen the weakened muscles.
Sitting down all day with consistent moments of movement and standing, paired with good posture and a well balanced fitness program is very rarely a problem. Neither is standing up all day if you address the same issues. Even an alternating approach (sit and stand) only addresses half the problem at best. We need to think about the whole picture if we really want to fix our sitting (and future standing) epidemic.
We always gravitate to the easy assumptive answer to a complex problem and then just do that one thing. Cholesterol high? Take a statin. Too much fat around our bellies? Limit the fat that goes into our bellies. Sitting a problem? Stand up. Standing a problem? Treadmill desk!!
So if you have a sitting problem the answer isn’t to address the symptoms by getting a statin desk. The answer is to look at the underlying factors and address those. If you still want to stand up that’s fine but much like our cholesterol problem you can’t just get a statin desk and think your problem is solved.
Personally, I like the hybrid approach: sitting, standing, even kneeling throughout the day, with attention to good posture and as many different movements and changes as you can reasonably attain, with a good exercise program that evens out the rest. See… so simple. 😀
If you have to sit all day then do your best to be aware of your posture, move your body around and change seated positions often, stand up, walk and stretch as much as you can and then try to balance it out with some complimentary exercise whenever you can. Even if you’re not perfect, progress is the goal.
*Update: Just came across a great podcast that covers all this and much more, check it out for a great discussion and helpful tips, particularly for stretching/corrective exercise.
Thanks for reading half of this while sitting and half while standing up and squeezing your glutes, have a great day!