Is It Better to Stand or Sit While Working?

Reviewed on 12/7/2021

Sitting vs. standing for work

When compared with sitting, there are some benefits to be gained from standing during your workday. It takes more effort to stand than sit, so your body burns off a few extra calories per hour.
When compared with sitting, there are some benefits to be gained from standing during your workday. It takes more effort to stand than sit, so your body burns off a few extra calories per hour.

Most people would sit rather than stand when they can choose, especially at work. Many people have jobs that require them to either sit or stand for long periods. Is one better than the other? Learn more about sitting vs. standing for work and which one may be better for you.

The kind of work you do may determine whether you spend most of your time sitting or standing. If you have a desk job, you might find yourself sitting for eight or nine hours a day. However, this may not be the best option for your health.

Luckily, standing desks or standing workstations are becoming more and more popular. This alternative lets you stand while doing your desk job. There are three kinds of standing desks:

  • Traditional workstations: these are regular work desks or tables modified to raise the height of your computer. You can stack your computer on something, like a box, to give it extra height. The change lets you stand and work at the same time.
  • Standing workstations: these desks are modified so that users are comfortable standing while working. These workstations are not adjustable. You may want to have a tall stool handy if you want to take a break from standing.
  • Sit-stand workstation: these desks are adjustable for either sitting or standing. They can be raised and lowered with power controls or manually with a crank. You can shift between the two different positions easily.

When to stand

If you have an adjustable desk, you probably don't want to stand all day. Consider these guidelines of when to stand during your workday:

  • If you have to move around the office frequently or go to a different workstation
  • You have to move or carry heavy objects around
  • If you have to assemble or load things
  • When you can't do tasks with your arms comfortably at your sides

Benefits of standing

When compared with sitting, there are some benefits to be gained from standing during your workday. It takes more effort to stand than sit, so your body burns off a few extra calories per hour. A study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health compared the calories burned between workers who sat vs. those who stood. Seated workers burned around 80 calories per hour. Those who stood at workstations burned about 88 calories in an hour.

Even though this is a small difference, those calories can add up throughout your workweek.

The calorie difference probably won't have much of an effect on your weight. But standing also gives you more opportunity to stretch and move around. This increases your muscle activity and helps fight against a sedentary lifestyle. Standing can help prevent the back and shoulder pain you can get from long periods sitting.

Keep in mind that even though there are several benefits to standing, there are also some risks. Standing for long stretches without taking breaks to sit can increase your risk of varicose veins and puts more strain on your circulatory system. It also puts more pressure on your legs and feet, especially the cartilage in your knees and the balls of your feet.

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Risks of sitting

While sitting may be more comfortable, studies show several risks when sitting for long periods. The human body was built to stand upright. It works most efficiently when standing. Hours of sitting can weaken the muscles in your legs and gluteals (backside). You may also start to develop back problems if you don't sit using good posture. Sitting causes your hip flexors to shorten, which can lead to problems in your hip joints.

Sitting may also be linked with increased chances of:

A sedentary lifestyle takes a toll on your mental health, too. Anxiety and depression are higher in people who sit than in people who are more active. It's believed that when you constantly sit, you miss out on the positive effects of movement. These effects include increased energy, greater endurance, and improved mood.

How to sit correctly at work

If you need to sit at work, it's important to sit correctly. Adjust your chair so that it properly supports your lower back. The height should place your wrists and arms even with the floor. Good posture can reduce the risk of carpal tunnel and eliminate strain on your wrists. Put your keyboard straight in front of you and keep your mouse close so that you can keep your arms in an L-shape. This helps keep your wrists straight.

Try to keep your screen at eye level so that you can sit up straight. You might need to elevate your monitor to do so. Place both feet on the floor or a footrest. Keep everything you need close at hand to avoid strain when reaching. If you need to make long phone calls, use a headset to avoid putting stress on your neck and shoulders.

If you must sit, take breaks when you can. Stretch, change your position, or even consider going on a short walk during your lunch.

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References
Better Health Channel: "The dangers of sitting: why sitting is the new smoking."

Cornell University Ergonomics Web: "Sitting and Standing at Work."

Harvard Health Publishing: "The truth behind standing desks."

NHS: "How to sit at your desk correctly."

UCLA Health: "Sitting to Standing Workstations."

Upstate Medical University: "Sit / Stand Workstation Information."

Wake Forest University: "Sitting Versus Standing Work."

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