Most of us know that sitting down all day is very bad for us. And in this post-pandemic world many of us now work from home, adopting a lifestyle perhaps even more sedentary than our former office job ever was.
It wasn’t that long ago that eight hours of sitting in front of a computer was regularly broken up by meetings we had to walk to, lunch breaks strolling into town and a cheeky gossip standing around the coffee machine.
But with the advent of home-working, for many all this is now a thing of the past. When you’re all snug at home, what is there to get up for, exactly? Zoom meetings? Stay seated. Lunch break? Might as well eat it sat at your desk. Gossip? Send a text or email. While seated.
We may get up to answer the door to the postman, but that really is about it.
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This is, of course, great news for convenience and cost-saving – but it’s rather less good for our bodies.
With that in mind, just how long is too long to be sitting? And should we be standing instead? Is that better for us?
Obviously, as human beings, we are not designed to stand all day — or sit all day, for that matter. We’re meant to be walking around and being active. But that doesn’t sit well – quite literally – with a home-based office job. So in an effort to find out what’s the best thing to do, let’s first take a look at what prolonged sitting and standing actually does to the body:
Five things that sitting all day can do to you:
Weak legs and glutes
By sitting all day, your lower body muscles are doing nothing to hold you up. These muscles then begin to weaken, making you more likely to get injured.
Piling on the pounds
Sitting idly all day inhibits the body’s ability to process fats and sugars. One study found that people who spend more time sitting than usual gained more weight around the middle, which is the most dangerous place to store fat.
Getty Images/Science Photo Library)
Bad back and tight hips
If you sit all day, your hips and back will suffer. Sitting causes your hip flexors to shorten, with the seated position hurting your back if you have a bad posture, causing compression on the discs in your spine.
While far from proven, emerging studies have suggested that prolonged sitting can increase your risk of certain types of cancer, including uterine, lung and colon cancers.
Anxiety and depression
Studies have found that depression and anxiety tend to be higher in people who sit the most. This is thought to be down to the sheer lack of movement, which can be mitigated with regular exercise once free of the home office.
Five things that standing all day can do to you:
Standing for eight hours a day in one position is bad for you as it causes your heart rate and blood pressure to rise. Standing takes more effort than sitting, so fatigue can set in which can make it harder to concentrate and be productive.
Standing all day can affect your back. The increased pressure on your spine can make the lower back muscles tighten and spasm, leading to pain.
Increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
Prolonged standing can cause blood clots in your legs. If your legs already have insufficient blood flow, standing for extended periods can have the exact same effect as sitting for too long.
Standing too much can lead to venous insufficiency, which causes the veins to swell and stay filled with blood. This is because the heart has to work harder to pump the blood back up to the heart and lungs, fighting against gravity as it does so.
It is the lack of blood flow that causes muscles to tire more easily and causes pain in the feet, legs, back and neck. Keeping your body in a standing position requires muscular effort while reducing blood supply to these muscles.
So what’s the answer?
Taking all the above into account, it is clear how vital it is to strike the right balance between sitting and standing when you have to be at a workstation for eight hours at a time.
Sitting all day is very bad for us, as is standing.
So what we need to do is strike a middle ground, allowing for more breaks without feeling guilty about being lazy or not getting enough exercise.
Ultimately, experts agree that standing at work is generally better than sitting. But you need to monitor how much you stand throughout the day. Using a sit-stand desk at work can help relieve back and neck pain, reduce spikes in blood sugar, and improve blood circulation.
A standing desk, or standing desk converter, is generally a good idea – but it is important to break this up with periods of sitting, such as when on your lunch break, or perhaps for an hour or two during the day.
When people find working at a standing desk uncomfortable, this is often simply down to their body not being accustomed to using their core muscles for such an extended length of time.
This is why it is best to alternate between sitting and standing until you can acclimatise to standing without it taking such a toll on your body.