A study by the Annals of Internal Medicine has shown a direct relationship between early mortality and sitting for too long, regardless of how much exercise you do afterwards. Now that’s scary.
Standing has become very popular as a way to be more productive – and healthy- as you work, as reflected in the rise of standing desks. However, for people just starting out, fatigue and general boredom can be high hurdles to overcome.
Here are 8 best ways to fight the urge to sit back down when you stand at work, plus best practices for how often to stand, sit, and move throughout your day.
1. Maintain the Proper Posture
Standing properly and maintaining good posture is key to remaining energized and getting the right benefits from standing. Improper posture in the long term can damage muscles, joints, and ligaments, resulting in musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) like muscle fatigue, arthritis, and tenosynovitis.
According to the Harvard Medical School and other experts,, a good standing posture entails the following:
- Chin parallel to the floor
- Shoulders should be even
- Spine should be neutral and straight, with no flexing or arching
- Abdominal muscles should be braced
- Hips should be even
- Body weight evenly distributed between two feet
The American Chiropractic Association states that good posture enables the correct alignment and proper function of muscles and joints. In other words, if you’re not standing properly, you can be on the receiving end of a whole host of other health issues over time, such as lower back and leg pain and cardiovascular problems.
For those who lift and carry objects at work, balancing the weights among the left and right arms can prevent scoliosis (a curvature of the spine to the left or right due to uneven weight distribution).
When lifting objects, bending the knees instead of the waist and back can prevent severe lower back injuries; that way, the legs (with the strong quadriceps muscles) do most of the work.
2. Wear the Right Shoes
Having footwear with proper arch and sole support goes a long way in helping you stand longer when working at your standing desk, by easing tension on the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Most of the body’s weight should be borne on the balls of the feet.
A good pair of shoes should maintain the arch of the feet and support the soles. Since foot size and shape greatly varies between each person, University of Calgary biomechanics professor Dr. Benno Nigg suggests that each person should just wear shoes that he or she considers comfortable. Types of recommended shoes include professional clogs, comfortable sneakers, or running shoes with excellent cushioning. Take a look at Dansko clogs, New Balance sneakers, and Ascis Gel shoes, respectively. Obviously, the type of shoe worn depends on workplace dress codes.
The National Institute For Occupational Safety suggests using shoe inserts and compression hosiery to counter the adverse effects of standing for long time periods. Those who simply wish to modify their existing shoes for improved posture can invest in comfortable insoles, especially in a professional work environment with strict dress codes. Compression stockings can prevent fluid buildup in the legs that may otherwise lead to varicose veins.
3. Alternate between Sitting, Standing, and Walking
As with all things in life, moderation is key. Standing shouldn’t be your only position when you work. In fact, standing for too long has its share of adverse effects on your health.
In moderate doses, standing engages your thigh muscles, burns calories, and promote better vascular health. In long bouts, however, your legs begin to cramp as gravity starts to weigh down on your entire body, leading to the health issues suggested in the study.
A study by the National Institute For Occupational Safety suggests that prolonged standing at work leads to lower back and leg pain, cardiovascular problems, and numerous issues for pregnant women. There is great muscle activity in the lower limbs when standing as opposed to sitting.
So what’s the solution? Alternate between sitting, standing, and walking throughout the day.
Regularly changing postures can avert illnesses associated with prolonged standing. CCOHS recommends routinely changing work positions, avoiding extreme movements, spacing out tasks to prevent strain, and taking adequate breaks.
Cornell University’s research suggests the following regime when it comes to a good ratio between sitting, standing, and moving:
- Sit for 20 minutes
- Stand for 8 minutes
- Move for 2 minutes
The research team also recommends using a downward tilting keyboard tray for best posture when typing.
4. Vary the Way you Stand
Just like you should alternate between sitting and standing, when standing, you shouldn’t always assume the same rigid posture at all times.
Varying the way you stand from time to time helps engage different parts of your leg and core muscles, while reducing boredom and fatigue.
Practicing “active standing” is vital to getting the proposed benefits from standing. The CCOHS and CIOSH suggest the following 2 ways to vary the way you stand:
- Use a floor mat: A floor or anti fatigue standing mat with its rubberized texture and mixed terrain help engage different part of your leg muscles as you stand. The Terra Standing Desk Mat for example even comes with massage mounds to sooth your feet when they get sore.
- Use a foot stool: A foot rest or stool helps shift your weight between your legs as you stand, resting your legs periodically without sitting back down and breaking your routine. You can use any elevated surface such as a pile of books to achieve this. For something a little more dignified, you can go with a product such as the Safco Adjustable Footrest, which is height adjustable and texturized.
You can even go the extra mile with the use of treadmill or bicycle desks, though they are more expensive. When it comes to productivity, one study also shows that treadmill and bicycle desks can slow down certain type of work such as typing. Work performance was not shown to be negatively impacted by standing alone however, based on a 2014 research study
5. Stretch from Time to Time
Occasional stretches is essential to alleviate the weight on the spine from maintaining the same posture, giving back and leg muscles a much-needed break.
ETH Zurich researcher Maria-Gabriela Garcia Rodriguez and University of Cincinnati professor Kermit Davis recommend regular stretching exercises, routine half-hour breaks, and work rotation.
Sstretching and moving around enables healthy blood circulation, as standing in the same position results in preferential blood flow to the lower limbs due to gravity.
When you’re on a plane, health experts usually recommend getting up and moving around from time to time- well, the same concept applies to when you’re standing to enable healthy blood circulation.
The Mayo Clinic recommends stretches for the shoulders, upper arms, head and neck, lower back, and thighs. Additionally, physiotherapist Dr. Carmen Roberts suggests hip flexor, lateral trunk, and scapula retraction stretches.
Stretching also gives you a brief respite from your extended postures, which can prevent common hand injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome (a painful wrist condition due to compression of the median nerve) and tenosynovitis (tendon inflammation from repetitive actions), or leg issues like varicose veins (enlarged veins of pooled blood) and muscle fatigue.
6. Practice Core and Foundation Exercises
Exercises that strengthen the core — the abdominal and lower back muscles that stabilise the spine and pelvis — can improve posture, especially when standing.
The core muscles in the abdomen should be developed so they can support the weight of the back, as a weak core can lead to slouching or back pain. All the more reason to work out!
Core exercises recommended by WebMD include single leg extensions, planks, and Pilates-based exercises targeting the abdominal and lower back muscles. Many of these compound exercises simultaneously work out multiple muscles:
Foundation exercises have also gained popularity as a way to strengthen your core and give you more stamina when you stand.
At the heart of foundation training are three core routines- The Founder, Lunge Stretch, and The Wide Founder.
Dr Eric Goodman explains these 3 routines you can practice in 4 minutes to gradually strengthen your core and improve your posture:
7. Get a Sit Stand Chair
Sit-stand chairs as their name suggests enable you to switch between sitting and standing positions on a whim. Apart from being great for beginners who have trouble sustaining a standing position for long, these chairs also fit into experts’ recommended regime of periodically switching between sitting and standing.
Sit Stand Chairs usually consist of a sturdy base at the bottom, and a stool at the top that is height adjustable. At their highest setting your legs are almost completely straight for good blood circulation, with your bottom still supported by the seat of the chair when you need it.
The low cut back rest and moving column found on most sit stand chairs force your core to be engaged at all times, which is another benefit of these chairs. They are also relatively inexpensive and take up minimal room compared to a standard office chair.
Here are some of the best sit stand chairs, including one model that combines a regular chair, kneeling chair, and standing desk chair all into one.
8. Get an Adjustable Standing Desk
If you’re reading this article, you probably already own a standing desk of some kind, or perhaps work at a makeshift standing desk or the kitchen counter.
Of the various types of standing desks out there, pick one that is height adjustable to get the maximum benefits. An adjustable standing desk allows you to switch between sitting and standing modes so your posture can easily be changed.
In 2014, Australian researchers surveyed a few office workers on their use of height-adjustable standing desks. Users reported a decrease in fatigue and lower back stress when switching between seated to standing postures every 30 minutes, which seems to support findings that recommend routine breaks from standing.
While standing, maintain periodic movement by walking your legs in place, or using a balance board that promotes active standing.
For people who are not quite ready to replace their existing desk with an adjustable height one, a good desk riser is an inexpensive alternative to consider.
It’s Not Just About Standing
People solely focused on modifying their workspace to facilitate standing are missing the point. While the general consensus is that standing is beneficial for your health, the overall conclusion from all of the major studies is that adding variety to your work posture throughout the day is key to better health.
This means try to alternate between sitting and standing, mix up the way you stand, plus take short breaks and stretches as frequently as possible. We hope this article provided you with useful information on how to incorporate all of these things into your work routine today.