Is Sitting the New Smoking?

Woman standing at her office desk. (Getty Images)
UConn Health ergonomist Jennifer Garza recommends alternating between sitting and standing during the workday. (Getty Images)

SHARELINES

People who sit throughout the day are likely at increased risk for disease and death. Recent studies estimate that physical inactivity contributes to more than 300,000 deaths annually in the United States.

Further, the World Health Organization lists physical inactivity as the fourth leading cause of non-communicable disease. These findings have left many who work in sedentary jobs wondering whether they need to cut down on sitting at work to protect and improve their health. Although the research is ongoing, it appears that sedentary workers can benefit from alternating between sitting and standing throughout the day.

One way to accomplish that is by using a sit-stand workstation. Evidence suggests that workers who use sit-stand workstations may experience improved health. For instance, participants in some studies experienced reduced back pain and cholesterol levels and better glucose regulation. In addition, sit-stand workstations don’t seem to hinder productivity, and people generally like using them.

Balance Is Best
When it comes to sitting versus standing at work, striking a balance is the key. In other words, too much standing can be just as harmful as too much sitting. Standing has been associated with lower back pain, leg pain and discomfort, fatigue, varicose veins, chronic venous insufficiency, and a worse prognosis after a diagnosis of coronary artery disease.

Here are some suggestions that aim to balance the risks and benefits of sitting and standing:

  • Alternate between sitting, standing, and moving every hour.
  • Use an approximately 3:1 ratio of sitting to standing (sit three times longer than stand).
  • Incorporate three to five minutes of movement into every hour (standing alone is not enough).
  • Use adjustable furniture to maintain neutral postures during computer work in all positions. (A neutral posture occurs when muscles are at resting length, joints are naturally aligned, and the spine is not twisted.)

Move It
Sit-stand workstations are not the only option for those looking to counteract the effects of a sedentary workday. Workers can gain many of the same benefits by taking three-to-five-minute “movement” breaks from sitting every hour.

Suggestions for incorporating movement into the workday include:

  • Walking to a printer or bathroom farther away than the ones you normally use;
  • Talking with a colleague in person, rather than sending an email or text;
  • Taking the stairs instead of the elevator;
  • Holding walking meetings;
  • Starting a group stretching or exercise class.

This article by was originally published in February by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association Inc.