Sitting or Standing at Work: The Benefits and Risks


Flip through any health-related magazine or website, and you’re bound to see articles touting the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. Scientists have found that people who sit for prolonged periods, whether at home or at work, increase their risk of premature death. One major health risk is that blood can start to pool in the legs after just 1 hour of sitting, which prevents sufficient blood flow to the heart. The consequences of sitting too long include poor circulation, heart disease, and joint pain. While the adverse effects of sitting apply to people who exercise regularly, the effect is more profound for those who exercise little or not at all. 

And what about those who stand all day, such as doctors, nurses, and family nurse practitioners? Are they also vulnerable to health problems?

The fact is that excessive standing can also take a serious toll on your health. In a recent study, researchers discovered that prolonged standing at work can trigger a number of serious health complications, including leg cramps, joint problems, and significant long-term fatigue once the workday concludes. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, working in a standing position on a regular basis can lead to varicose veins, low back pain, neck and shoulder stiffness, leg swelling, and sore feet. This can be attributed to the muscular effort required to keep the body in an upright position, which restricts blood supply to the muscles. This lack of blood flow hastens the onset of fatigue and causes discomfort in key muscle groups in the back, legs, and neck.
 
Sustained standing on the job can also contribute to chronic venous disorders, increased risk of stroke, preterm birth and miscarriage, and degenerative damage to spinal joints. 

What Can Be Done to Mitigate the Risk?
The good news is that your occupation doesn’t have to define your health. There are steps you can take to combat the issues that arise from too much sitting or standing. Of course, it's important to consult your medical provider to determine an approach that’s right for you. 

For Sitters (eg information technology professionals, writers, drivers, administrative assistants)
The key to mitigating the hazards of sitting is moving your body more to disrupt the stagnation.
  1. Stand during specific activities, such as talking on the phone or eating
  2. Engage your colleagues to meet while going for a walk
  3. Use a standing desk or position your work surface over a treadmill
  4. Set an alarm or reminder to go off at least once an hour, then get up, stretch, and walk around for a few minutes
  5. Use a fitness app to keep track of your daily activity
For Standers (eg doctors, family nurse practitioners, teachers, wait staff, hairdressers)
Like with sitting, experts recommend frequent breaks—every 30 minutes or so—to help temper the negative impact of prolonged standing.
  1. Alternate seated and standing work activities, if possible
  2. Change your position frequently
  3. Ensure that your workstation is set to the proper height and distance
  4. Invest in supportive, high-quality footwear
  5. Consider using a saddle chair (combines sitting and standing)
Whether your profession keeps you on your toes or parked in front of a computer screen, simply adding movement to your day can have profound benefits, including more energy and weight loss. Employers can also do their part by implementing practices like ergonomic workstations and regular rest periods, and by limiting activities that require staff to bend, stretch, or twist in an extreme manner. Together, we can create more body-friendly workplaces that positively impact the health of workers everywhere.
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