Standing vs. Sitting: Is standing actually better than sitting?

April 8, 2021

Learn what the science says about standing vs. sitting and how they impact your health


Employees working at a desk, some standing, some sitting 
There's been a lot of research in recent years on standing vs. sitting at work. And for a good reason! The average American who works a desk job sits hunched over at their desk for 8.8 hours per day.

Standing desks offer an alternative to sitting all day. Still, some research suggests that standing is not necessarily the answer to the health issues brought on by sitting for prolonged periods of time.

Is standing really better than sitting? Are there noticeable differences from a health perspective?

Let's see what the science says...

Standing vs. sitting


Standing vs. sitting has been an ongoing discussion in the past few years. But before you buy that expensive sit-stand desk for your home office, it's important to look at the actual research on standing vs. sitting at work.

The science of sitting


Studies on the health implications of sitting are clear in their conclusions that the more sedentary time a person has, the more at risk they are for health issues. Multiple studies suggest people who are sedentary for an extended period of time have an increased risk of disease, hospitalization, and mortality. One study suggests that too much sitting can also impact the brain and may even be linked to Alzheimer's.

Here are just a few of the other health implications that come with sitting for long periods of time:
  • Reduced blood flow to the legs and brain
  • Decreased blood vessel health
  • Lowered production of substances that help control blood sugar levels and cholesterol
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Increased risk of diabetes
  • Increased risk of obesity

The science of standing


Standing requires more effort and energy than sitting, which means that it burns more calories. However, the research shows that standing at work instead of sitting will not help you lose weight because the difference in calories burned is minimal. (It comes out to about 9 calories more an hour, the equivalent of one celery stalk.)

Standing at work can also help decrease discomfort. A review of studies on sit-stand desks shows that some people who use standing desks regularly have reported an improvement in their lower back pain. Periodically standing while working can also improve your overall behavior, getting you to stand and move more throughout the day, even when you're at home.

It's important to note that standing too much during the day can actually have negative health impacts. Studies on those who stand all day for work, like nurses and service industry professionals, show that standing for too long can actually cause discomfort, create swelling in the feet and foot pain, and cause vascular issues.

How does this relate to sit-stand desks? One recent study showed that using a standing desk for up to 2 hours can cause fatigue and muscle aches.

Is standing better than sitting?


Ultimately, yes, standing at work is 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 muscular pain like back and neck pain, reduce spikes in blood sugar, and improve blood circulation. It can also promote healthy habits like taking breaks for movement when you've been sitting too long.

Standing doesn't do much to lower your risk of heart disease, and standing for too long can actually harm your health. However, if you find the right balance between standing and sitting throughout the day, using an adjustable standing desk at work is better than just sitting.

If you do decide to try out an adjustable standing desk, follow these tips to get the most out of it:
  • If you're new to using a standing desk, start by easing into it with 30 to 60 minutes a day of standing, gradually increasing the time when you feel comfortable.
  • Try to alternate frequently between sitting and standing. You might set a timer for every 30 minutes or stand when you're on a call or doing something else that doesn't require lots of typing.
  • Use an anti-fatigue mat to help ease the strain of standing. Some are also designed to promote good posture, and others are designed to promote movement.
  • Set the alarm on your phone or computer to remind you to take standing breaks throughout the day, and be conscious of the amount of time you are standing.
  • Not sure how to position your standing desk? Consult with someone in your office who understands your desk's proper positioning when you're sitting and standing.

How to move during your day


The verdict may still be out on whether standing desks are really the answer to the problem of prolonged sitting at work. However, one thing is clear -- movement in whatever form can help you combat the negative health effects of being sedentary at work. (And no, it doesn't require you to get an expensive treadmill desk!)

Here are just a few ways to get more movement in your day:

1. Take more breaks


Take small breaks to stand, stretch, and walk around. This gets your blood circulating and can help you wake up and refocus your energy when returning to your desk.

2. Walk during calls


If you're able to, walking during calls allows you to get some movement into your day without stopping your productivity.

3. Step away from your desk at lunchtime


When it's time to eat lunch, get away from your desk. Not only does this allow you to move, but it gives you a little mental break which will make it easier to focus when you return to work.

4. Use a fitness tracker to monitor activity


Sometimes it isn't easy to know how much you're actually moving during the day. Using a fitness tracker or pedometer is a good way to monitor activity and encourage more movement throughout the day.

5. Try seated exercises


If you can't step away from your desk, you can still move right from your desk chair. Rotate your shoulders, neck, wrists, and ankles. Stretch your hands above your head. Lift and lower your legs.

A standing desk surrounded by chairs

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by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Specialist at Germania Insurance.