What is the best way to work – sitting, standing or moving?

We sit while driving. We sit at our computers. We sit in meetings. We relax … sitting at home. In North America, most adults sit for approximately 9,3 hours daily. And this is bad news for our health. When we sit for a long time, metabolism slows down, muscles shut down, and connective tissue degrades.

You think: “I am working. I’m safe”. Think again. If you move for an hour but sit the rest of the day, what can one hour do to nine hours of sitting?

Just like an hour of movement does not give reason to think that now you can smoke with impunity. Conclusion: There is nothing good about prolonged, chronic sitting. What can you do?

The experts suggested:

Sit on the ball, not on the chair. Work standing at a desk, not sitting. Use the treadmill while working at your desk. Get up and move regularly.

All this sounds good. But none of these tips actually change the situation. Let’s see.

The biggest problem with sitting all day long is being uncomfortable. Backache. Pain in the neck. Shoulder pain. Pain in the knees.

If we sit at a computer, we slouch. We lean towards the screen. Shoulder rounding. Stretching the neck. Strabismus. Tense facial muscles. Tense back. Men suffer somewhat more than women, who tend to be a little more flexible.

Not surprisingly, the designers have tried to create the best chair. And over the past decade, researchers have compared different options.

Balls instead of chairs

One common alternative to the standard office chair is the ball. The theory behind this idea is that the ball chair is an unstable surface that will keep the back muscles working. This is considered a good decision.

It turns out not so much. First of all, research shows that the activation of the back muscles when sitting on a ball is pretty much identical to using a chair. In fact, the contact area of ​​the ball with the body is larger compared to the chair, and this exacerbates the compression of the soft tissues, which can mean more discomfort, soreness and numbness.

Sitting on a ball leads to increased disc compression and trapezius muscle activation. These disadvantages may outweigh any potential benefits.

dynamic chairs

Thus, switching to the ball is not such a great idea. But balls are not the only kind of dynamic chairs on the market. For example, some office chairs allow the torso to move, to tilt. How does this affect health?

ОHowever, research has shown that the real problem is not how stool affects muscle activation, but rather that a person needs different forms of physical activity. In other words, dynamic chairs don’t solve the problem.

Kneeling chair

This type of chair and its impact on health has been little researched. One article says that this type of chair maintains a proper lumbar curve. Unfortunately, this study only focused on posture and not on muscle activation and spinal shrinkage. Another study showed that the kneeling chair turned off the lower body, impairing its functioning.

Awareness of tasks

The best option is when you have to sit, sit on something that: reduces pressure on the body; reduces the area of ​​contact with soft tissues; relieves stress; reduces effort. But this is not an ideal solution.

No matter what we sit on, for a short time, the negative effects of sitting can bite us in the ass. Balls and kneeling chairs can be worse than well-designed chairs in some respects. But even with well-designed chairs, our bodies have different needs. We must respond effectively to this. So when it comes to muscle activation, shape and compression of the back, all chairs are pretty much the same, there are not many differences between them.

How does sitting affect metabolism?

Key Point: A sedentary lifestyle and sedentary work are strongly associated with heart and inflammatory disease—regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. In other words, sedentary work sucks. For all. And if we sat less, we would be leaner and healthier.

Is sitting as bad as smoking?

Indeed, a study that included 105 full-time office workers found that those who sat more were approximately three times more likely to have a waist circumference greater than 94 cm (37 inches) for men and 80 cm ( 31 inches) for women.

Waist circumference, as you probably know, is heavily linked to heart disease.

Meanwhile, another study showed that every additional hour of sitting resulted in an increase in waist circumference, an increase in insulin levels, and a decrease in good cholesterol. Not good.

In fact, the harms of prolonged sitting are so great that one article considers sedentary work as “a special risk factor for coronary heart disease.” This is why prolonged sitting ends up in the same category as smoking. Considering the implications, the comparison is not surprising.

One study shows that computer users who spend one hour a day on their feet at work have less back pain.

Interestingly, the data entry speed decreases in the standing position, but not by much. So when it comes to pain, standing can be a good alternative to sitting. But will people actually use the “stand” option if it’s available? It looks like they will.

A Swedish call center with over XNUMX employees purchased sit-and-stand desks and found that people stood more and sat less.

An Australian study on the same issue was recently published. Desks with electronic or manual height adjustment became available in the office, resulting in a reduction in sitting time at work from 85% at the beginning to 60% by the time the study came to an end.

Interestingly, the participants were motivated either by back pain or by what they had heard about standing up to burn more calories. Working while standing, it turns out, you can move more. Whether you will be standing or walking, which is most important, reduce your total sitting time.

By the way, those Australian office workers were right. Standing burns 1,36 more calories per minute than sitting. That’s over sixty calories an hour. In eight hours (a typical working day) you will lose about 500 calories. Big difference. If you’re looking to lose weight or just stay slim, get out of your chair as soon as possible.

What about walks?

If standing is good and walking is good, what if you combine the two? Great idea. We use more energy standing up than sitting down. And walking requires more energy than standing.

This sounds great. Walking all day at work can help you lose weight, reduce musculoskeletal pain, and improve metabolic function. Bingo! But wait. Is anyone actually able to get any work done with moving tables? After all, there is a reason why most of us sit at work. Our work requires constant attention to detail, analytical focus, creativity, innovation and discovery.

Is it possible to achieve this with a moving table? Sit down and think.

In other words, while we’re hard at work earning dollars by standing or walking in an attempt to save our backs and boost our metabolism, we also need to consider another important variable: cognitive function.

People tend to do finer work while seated, and this has been true for thousands of years. It is hard to imagine the creators of cuneiform tablets carelessly applying small strokes to clay on the run. So, if we think, read or write, is it better to sit? It seems so.

We did our own research to see if standing improves cognitive performance. We wanted to understand whether the undeniable metabolic benefits of the upright position also provide cognitive benefits. Alas, the answer seems to be no. In other words, the tougher the task, the more mistakes you will make if you try it on a moving table. This result is not entirely surprising.

Not So Fast: Movement and Cognition

So, in the interest of business, you should just forget about the moving table and go back to normal? Not so fast.

Because even though moving tables can get in the way of a task at work, the movement itself is extremely beneficial for cognitive function. It is never too late to start a movement practice. More and more research shows that even short-term exercise (say, 20 minutes long) can improve cognitive function in people of all ages.

In other words, physical exercise and mental activity should be separated in time, and not performed simultaneously.

I see clearly now – or not?

Movement is also of great importance for another part of our well-being: vision. For most of us, vision is the primary way we perceive the world. Unfortunately, myopia (or nearsightedness) is on the rise all over the world. Visual acuity, of course, is associated with an increase in screen time.

The operation of the screen focuses our eye muscles in a certain position for a long time, preventing them from focusing at other distances. In other words, myopia may be the result of constant eye strain.

Movement throughout the day helps to think clearly, reduces the load on the musculoskeletal system, improves metabolism, and also reduces the visual tension that accompanies computer work. Movement is good for us. And the lack of movement leads to disease.

Sitting all day is bad for human beings.

Let’s move more during the day. And then sit, perhaps for contemplation or deep concentration.

Get Creative

If you’re sitting at work reading this, don’t be discouraged. Think creatively and strategically. Think: How can I accomplish this or that task while on the move? Look for options and make small, simple changes. You probably have more options than you think.

Run up the stairs. Go to another building to get something or meet someone.

Think and plan standing up. Use a whiteboard or flipchart instead of pen and paper. Or lay out some sheets of paper on the floor and sit down to work on them.

Sit when it’s best to sit. Move when it’s best to move. Find out how you can reduce your sitting time.

Remember that the combination of movement with work is essential for you. Don’t spend eight hours on the treadmill when you’re writing your Ph.D. Try to just spend more time standing up first.

Take regular breaks and move around. Set a timer. Get up every hour, stretch, walk for a few minutes.

Walk while talking. When you schedule a phone call, get up and go for a walk.

Many firms offer healthy work options, but employees don’t ask for them. Start asking questions.  


Improving ergonomics with special chairs or treadmills is a great start, it’s an easy way to make small changes. We must move on, fight for our health. For optimal performance, along with creativity, innovation and quality of life, we must adapt the environment to our real needs.

People must move. So let’s go.  


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