How Much Time Should Workers Spend Standing?

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

Today, most people know there are tons of negative side effects associated with sitting too long. If you work at a desk all day, you could probably use some help finding ways to alleviate the body aches, mood changes, and damage to your overall health. A mostly sedentary lifestyle can lead to weight gain, disease, and a shortened life span. Sitting too long even harms your workplace productivity. Typical office culture doesn’t make it easy to stay active, so workers really need to commit themselves to making what positive changes they can. There is no silver bullet here, but there are plenty of things you can do to lessen the damage.

One common way many nine-to-fivers cope is by alternating between sitting and standing. A standing desk or a table that you can easily adjust to different heights makes this a whole lot easier. But in a pinch, you may be able to prop up your computer on some boxes or books on a regular desk. If you are lucky enough to work at home, you might simply move your laptop to a nearby counter that is a comfortable height for standing. Treadmill desks and bicycle desks are gaining popularity as well, though these options may require a little more investment. The most important thing is that you at least get up and move throughout your workday, as well as exercise in your spare time.

To the dismay of many hard-core standing workers, research has shown that standing all day isn’t much better. A more beneficial system is alternating between sitting and standing, and a recent consensus statement from Public Health England and the Active Working Community Interest Company explains just how long we should be standing. The statement, published in June 2015 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, suggests that four hours of standing during each workday could be the ideal target.

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

The authors’ guidelines say you should stand or engage in light physical activity like walking for at least two hours per day. Eventually, that amount of time should grow to a total of four hours. The statement also advises workers to avoid prolonged periods of sitting. Breaking up periods of sitting and standing at regular intervals is best.

The research community is still far from reaching a true consensus on the subject, but Aviroop Biswas told Outside that these guidelines are a great place to start. Biswas is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto and co-author of a study on the effects of sedentary behavior.

People who are used to sitting at their desks for eight or more hours straight may find standing challenging at first. However, breaking up your standing sessions throughout the day, which the statement recommends, can make the change much easier. “Break up continuous sitting — every 30 to 60 minutes — with a few minutes of standing and moving,” Biswas said.

In all likelihood, your body and your brain will feel so much better, you’ll wonder why you didn’t try standing up sooner.

Some sedentary office workers still believe that intense workouts before or after a workday are sufficient, but research has shown that regular workouts alone don’t cancel out the harms associated with prolonged sitting. So take the initiative and force yourself to get up to move and stretch at least once every hour. Set an alarm if it helps. Exercise on your lunch break if you can. Just make sure that in the end, your standing time totals at least two to four hours.

The bottom line is our bodies need to move, and not just for one small portion of the day.

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