The average UK worker sits for around 9 hours per day, which is fairly shocking in the light of research emerging into the damaging effects of prolonged sitting. One author, Dr James Levine, a Mayo Clinic director, describes sitting as “more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting”.
That’s a fairly direct statement in itself, but he goes on to conclude that “we are sitting ourselves to death”. A fact, that the statistics do support. Australian researchers found that for every hour that you watch television after the age of 25 your life expectancy decreases by 21.8 minutes. To put that numbers into perspective, a single cigarette reduces lifespan by an estimated 11 minutes.
The damage caused by sitting falls into two essential categories:
- It’s Physically Stressful: The sitting position can cause significant orthopaedic damage, weakening structure, harming posture and stressing and straining the nervous system and organ systems of the body. Your body is substantially compressed and folded forwards when you sit.
- Your Not Moving: When you’re sitting, you’re not moving Being sedentary can also have significant negative long term impacts and is arguably one of the biggest challenges to overcome in the pursuit of good health.
How To Reduce The Impact That Sitting Has On Your Health
There’s no escaping the fact that sitting is terrible for us, but what can we do about it? The simple fact is that many people are forced to sit for work and travel purposes, or some other factor which forces you to be confined to a certain position all day.
By far, the best option for most people is not to sit at all! This is not some radical new idea. Instead, it is an idea whose time has come, and many companies around the world are now actively encouraging employes to stand at work, rather than sit.
It is the perfect solution to an age-old problem. Why not just stand? After all, most of the things that we do sitting can be achieved standing, with many additional benefits.
Standing To Work Is Probably Your Best Solution
Standing to work is a far better option than sitting because it is an active position that involves the use of many more muscles and joints. This means that you are more manoeuvrable, can compensate much better for any existing mechanical problems, you are far less likely to stoop, your brain works better, and you will be expending energy as you work.
Sitting expends about 300 calories over eight hours, whereas standing for the same time frame burns around 1300 calories. This type of energy expenditure, while you are stationary, has been called NEAT, or Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.
Standing expends a whopping 1000 more calories per day than sitting does. Over time that adds up to a lot and can be the difference between someone being a healthy weight or obese. Being more active is the one of the big goals of keeping a healthy upright body and so why not take advantage of every trick in the book.
Standing to work is one of the best habits to adopt because it takes care of your posture and keeps you more active, it’s a double whammy!
It is straightforward to set up a standing work desk situation, but you must make sure that you do it correctly. It must have enough space to give you opportunities to move around, and it must be set up at the correct height so that your monitors and keyboard are correctly ergonomically positioned.
You should take some time to build up to standing all day since it will be using your muscles very differently to what you have been used to and it can take some time to adapt.
Being upright allows you to shift positions regularly, and this is important because the goal is not to stand rigidly to guard all day long. Staying in any single position, ergonomically correct or not, can cause problems. You will shift naturally from leg to leg, and you can lean against the front of the table, you could put one foot up on a footstool, or perch against a high stool behind you.
The goal is to stay upright but also active. So try getting into the habit of taking a movement break every 30 minutes or so. You can so some simple mobility exercises, go for a walk, or my personal favourite the spinal hygiene routine.
The combination of standing with regular movement breaks is the ultimate solution that will keep you both structurally functional and generally healthy.
How To Set Up A Standing Work Station
Here are some ergonomic pointers for achieving a proper standing workstation set up at home or in your office.
Desk: There are many brands available on the market. You can get fixed-hight ones which are built to a standard height, or you can get adjustable ones that will move up and down so that you can use them as both standing and sitting desks.
You can also go down the middle and get yourself something like this, which can turn an existing desk into a stand-up option.
I recommend getting an adjustable desk so that you can fine-tune it to support proper biomechanics. You can find the perfect height by standing upright in your healthy correct posture, then bend your forearms so that they are parallel to the floor. The ideal desk height is the same as your elbow. You can tinker with the height a little bit if you want, but this is a good starting point.
Monitor: Position this so that the top of your screen is aligned with your eyes. If you can angle your screen upwards slightly, then it is even easier to maintain proper ergonomics as you work. Your face should be somewhere from 18 to 30 inches away from the screen so that you don’t have to move your head to see the whole screen.
If you are using a laptop, you will need to get a docking station that can position your screen high enough so that it is vertical and meets at the correct eye level. If you just place a laptop on your standing desk, you will have to look down to see the screen, and this will cause you to stoop after a while.
There are lots of docking station solutions – something like this works well, especially if you attach a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.
Keyboard and mouse: Follow the same instructions as to when you found your ideal desk height. Your keyboard and mouse should be directly below your hands with your elbows resting by your sides. If you need to use a mouse a lot, try to position that directly in front of your body so that you don’t need to twist your arm sideways to reach and operate it.
Shoes: You don’t have to wear shoes, especially if you are at home, but if you are work it’s likely to be a different story, and there are some advantages to wearing shoes, but they’ve got to be the right kind of shoes.
Shoes that are as close to barefoot as possible give you some significant advantages. As can using a custom-fitted heal lift in size range up to 1.5 inches. A heel lift causes a positive leverage effect in your pelvis and spine, helping to prop it up more readily into a better posture.
I cover how to get your shoes just right in the key advice section.
Stool: It can be useful to have a stool to lean against if your body gets tired in the early days of switching to a stand-up work routine.
Foot Rest: Placing one of your feet up on a small footrest can take a lot of mechanical stress out of your spine and provides a good option for you to be shifting positions as you work regularly.
Floor: Ideally, your floor should be concrete, wooden or another hard surface. You don’t want your heels to be sinking into a soft rug because that will tilt your pelvis backwards and cause your posture to tilt.
What If It Hurts My Back To Stand For A Long Time?
It is relatively common for people to complain of back pain with prolonged standing. The problem is usually incorrect footwear. See the key advice section above to make sure that your shoes are not inadvertently causing increased stress into your back and pelvis.
Common shoe problems are:
- Not enough room for the toes
- Inbuilt arch support
- A heel pad section that is too cushioned and allows your heel to sink into the shoe (known as a negative heel)
- Too high a heel
- Worn-out sole of the shoe
- Too tight-fitting and not flexible enough
- Too thick of sole, so that your foot cannot ‘feel’ or sense the floor
Fortunately, there are some sound pointers that you can choose on the key advice page as well as links to many of the healthiest footwear companies on the planet. If you chose from one of those companies on the page, you should do just fine.
What I have noticed over the years, is that many people are initially resistant to buying a more minimal shoe design for fear of them being uncomfortable to wear. What’s interesting to witness is that usually within just a week or two, people fall in love with them and couldn’t imagine wearing their old shoes again. You will learn to appreciate the freedom of movement, heightened sensory awareness and positive impact of more excellent overall balance and strength in your legs when you wear these sorts of minimal shoes.
If back pain continues after getting better shoes, check that you are not standing on a soft carpet. This can cause your heels to sink in too far leading to increased postural tension in your back. In this case, you may need to put a rigid board under your desk and stand on that.
You Need To Correct Your Alignment
If you continue to get pain while you stand then the chances are that your alignment is off. When your body is correctly aligned, your bones have a natural leverage effect upon one another, and you stand in a balanced, upright position without any undue strain or tension placed on your joints.
Advanced Biostructural Correction, which is the method of care that we specialise in at Spinecentral, is a consistent and predictable approach to correct your alignment.
Many of our patients report that they simply prefer to stand, and can do that all day long with getting tired or stiff in their body. That’s the natural side effect of proper biomechanics. Your body will just work well and can withstand the effects of gravity without becoming sore.
With the negative impact of sitting on health now much better understood we all face decisions on how to handle the problem. Sure, you could choose to take more regular breaks and get a better chair, but then you are still overall being sedentary more than you should.
Arguably the best fix to a very tricky problem is to just stand, instead of sit.
Now I’d like to hear from you. Have you tried working at a stand-up desk? How has it impacted you so far? Add your thoughts in the box below, and I’ll be sure to respond.
Structural Correction Chiropractor