How Standing All Day Is Actually Destroying Your Posture
By now, pretty much everyone has heard the phrase, “sitting is the new smoking.” The Mayo Clinic’s Dr. James Levine, who invented the treadmill desk, is credited with having coined it.
“The chair is out to kill us,” he said in a 2013 Los Angeles Times article. One of the findings of Dr. Levine’s research is that people who have desk jobs typically burn 300 calories during a work week, whereas those who have more physically active occupations burn 2,000 calories or more.
Other researchers agree with Dr. Levine. Studies show that sitting for extended periods increases one’s risk for various illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and different types of cancer.
So you can see why standing desks have become so popular. But is standing all day really the solution?
Prolonged Standing Is Not the Answer
No, it’s not, according to Professor Alan Hedge of Cornell University. This viewpoint actually sets us back 100 years. It was a century ago when we needed to develop chairs to prevent problems caused by standing all day such as backaches, varicose veins, and curvature of the spine.
Yes, standing provides some benefits like burning additional calories, promoting blood flow, and using more muscles. It is a natural position for us humans.
Our body is most comfortable when we stand for short periods; our lumbar curvature, spinal column, and internal organs are relaxed and supported.
Excessive standing, however, can lead to a whole bunch of different health issues. Maintaining an upright position over time requires significant muscular effort and is especially damaging when there is no movement.
Prolonged standing restricts blood flow to the load-bearing muscles that maintain an upright position, leading to muscular strain in the neck, back, and legs. Moreover, poor blood circulation makes you feel tired more quickly.
Jenny Pynt of Charles Sturt University found that standing all day is associated with a variety of health risks, including swelling of the legs, nocturnal leg cramps, varicose veins, cardiovascular diseases, and premature birth and spontaneous abortion in pregnant women.
Too much standing can also temporarily immobilize the joints in the hips, knees, feet, and spine. This can lead to rheumatic diseases in the future.
Standing All Day Damages Posture
In addition, prolonged standing can promote bad posture.
People who spend all day on their feet at work, including retail assistants, assembly line workers, food services staff, supermarket cashiers, and teachers, will typically slouch and shift their weight from one foot to another as they get more and more tired.
Slouching decreases alertness and activity. An individual who slouches for long periods may also experience circulation problems.
Postural joints and muscles, which support the body during walking and standing, need nourishment from circulation and rest breaks. Without rest, they become fatigued and the person starts to feel pain.
In a study published in the journal Human Factors, 14 men and 12 women were asked to replicate a shift at a manufacturing plant.
They stood at a workbench for five hours, simulating light tasks. They took five-minute rest breaks and one half-hour lunch break.
Researchers monitored their posture stability and leg muscle stress.
Not only did the participants experience significant muscle fatigue at the end of the work day, but that fatigue was still present more than a half hour after the experiment was over.
What You Can Do
So what preventative measures can be taken by people who spend the majority of their workday standing?
“Basically, the body does not like to have the same posture or load placed on it continuously, so change is always good,” says Kermit Davis of the University of Cincinnati. He recommends regular rest breaks to get the blood flowing.
Davis suggests moving around during breaks to “deliver paperwork, file papers in file cabinets, copy something, or use the bathroom.” His research has found that routine breaks do not undermine employee productivity.
Moreover, a well-designed workstation can minimize the risks of standing all day.
Some elements of an ergonomic workstation include adequate room to change body positions, a footrest or foot rail for shifting weight from one leg to the other, and a work surface whose height can be adjusted.
Ideally, a person should have a choice to work sitting or standing at will. If standing is unavoidable, then a seat for resting is strongly recommended.
Lastly, workplace flooring also affects health, especially the feet. If you work on hard surfaces such as metal and concrete, you will definitely feel it.
Wear shoes that will alleviate, not aggravate, the effects of prolonged standing.
The right shoes should not change the shape of the foot, as well as have low heels, enough space for the toes, and shock-absorbing cushioned insoles. I personally prefer a pair of Chuck Taylor slip-ons, though any of these standing shoes will do the trick.
Ultimately the most important things to heed are: avoid high heels, pointed shoes, shoes without adequate arch support, and shoes that are too tight or too loose.
- Sitting Is the New Smoking: Ways a Sedentary Lifestyle Is Killing You
- AMA to offices: Don’t make workers sit all day!
- Sitting at work is bad, but is standing actually better?
- Prolonged Standing: Taking the load off
- Good and Bad Effects of Standing at Work
- Standing All Day at Work? It May Take Toll on Health
Being obsessed with running, Chau Nguyen decided to build his own blog Running Addicted, a place where people just like him can come to get the best information, tips, and gear available. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.