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Risks of Sitting versus Standing at Work

Risks of Sitting versus Standing at Work

There is a lot of debate around whether you should sit or stand while at work. For medical professionals like Nurses, Doctors, Physician Assistants and Family Nurse Practitioners, standing is sometimes the only option.

As noted in an infographic published by Nursing@Georgetown, exclusively sitting or standing for the majority of one’s day presents risks, so it’s important that professionals whose jobs require them to stand balance it with stretching, proper footwear, and occasional sitting. In this post we'll highlight some of the core reasons that you should care about your posture at work, the risks of each working style, and what people can do to improve their health at work.

It's important to consider the risks associated with standing or sitting all day at work, because it might have a drastic impact on the type of career you want to pursue. Some individuals don't mind some of the health risks associated with each and are willing to assume them, whereas others might want to avoid certain careers based on their tendencies. The good news is that there are very few roles where an individual is forced to sit or stand all day at work, and the recent health pushed has made it a priority in nearly every workplace. A focus on employee wellness and education about proper ways to improve their health while at work is just one of the many benefits that employers are offering to job seekers and healthcare professionals as they consider their career options as well.

The biggest reason that sitting and standing at work is a cause for concern is the fact that recent studies have shown that humans are sitting more than ever. As we increasingly use technology as part of our daily routine, we no longer have to be as active as we once were and are forced to sit at a desk all day to get our work done. While technology does have its benefits with our jobs, sitting all day at work is one of the unintended consequences we didn't foresee. The good news is that in the healthcare industry, a large number of individuals are active throughout the day, but there are risks associated with that as well.

Are you Sitting or Standing Too Much?

One of the best ways to tell whether or not you're sitting or standing too much at work is to take note of your schedule. Sit down for a couple of minutes and just plot out your daily routine. You don't have to get super precise if you don't want to, as you can estimate or narrow down your schedule on a broad breakdown. For instance, take the time to write down when you wake up and elaborate on what you were doing shortly after you woke up. Write things like, "cooked breakfast - standing: 15 mins" and "got ready for work - standing: 30 mins". Take the time to go through your entire daily routine and tally up your sitting vs standing time each day.

Once you're done, evaluate how long you're sitting vs standing at work. Are there things you can do to improve how long you're sitting or standing for extended periods of time? It's important to remember that the health risks below for sitters and standers occur when you sit and stand for prolonged periods of time, and breaking up the monotony of sitting or standing for some time is all it takes to drastically reduce the risks you might incur.

If you find that you're spending an inordinate amount of time sitting during one period of the day, think about ways that you could possibly break it up. For instance, if you find that you spend three to four hours in the afternoon watching tv and sitting down or laying down, then find ways to break up that repetitive behavior and engage in some kind of activity to ensure you're not sitting idly by for such a long period of time.

Now that we've outlined ways for you to evaluate if you're sitting or standing for long periods of time, take a look at some of the health risks associated with standing or sitting for long periods of time.

Health Risks for Sitters

Defined as people who sit for more than four hours per day, sitters are considered to be leading a sedentary lifestyle — even if they exercise regularly after work. According to a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, more than half of the average person’s waking hours are spent sitting, and those who did so for prolonged periods of time had a higher risk of dying from all causes. Some are even saying that sitting all day or for extended periods of time can be classified as the same health risk as smoking.

Dr. Joanne Foody, the director of the Cardiovascular Wellness Center at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says there are many health risks associated with sitting too much: “While we often think of the dangers of inactivity in terms of worsening cardiovascular health, there are a myriad of negative effects.” In fact, one study proposed that after a certain age, “…each hour you spend sitting reduces your life expectancy by about 21.8 minutes, regardless of your exercise and diet.” Researchers noted that there could be a wide variance in that number, depending upon each individual’s situation.

A sedentary lifestyle contributes to neck stiffness, heart disease, lower back pain, obesity and restless legs. The long-term health risks of sitting often depends upon how long you sit.

  • Adults who sit for 11 hours per day or more for three or more years have a 40 percent increased risk of death.
  • Those who sit for six hours per day have an 18 percent increased risk of dying from diabetes, heart disease, or obesity.
  • Individuals who sit most of the day have a 54 percent increased risk of dying from a heart attack.
  • Those who engage in more than four hours of screen time per day have a 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause.

In addition, these sedentary habits can lead to disruptions in metabolic function (such as high triglyceride levels), decreased levels of “good” cholesterol, and decreased insulin sensitivity — which is closely associated with developing Type 2 diabetes.

Due to the fact that an individual's metabolism begins to suffer from this sedentary lifestyle, weight gain will significantly occur. It's hard to burn off any excess calories or fat when you're not doing anything that elevates your heart rate or gets your body moving for a significant period of time. A body at rest tends to stay at rest. Which means that you need to take active measures to ensure that you find ways to stand up and stretch for a bit.

According to JustStand, sitting at work and leading a sedentary lifestyle is the fourth leading risk for mortality and roughly 3.2 million deaths a year are related to inactivity. This means it's more important than ever to convince professionals in every industry, especially the healthcare industry, that the time to change their sedentary lifestyle is now. In nearly every role as a healthcare professional, you will be interacting with and consulting patients frequently about the importance of keeping an active lifestyle, so you can help contribute to solution daily.

The next cause for concern and risk of sitting at work is an increased risk of developing dementia. Dementia has become one of the leading issues that affects the global population, and there seem to be no signs of potentially reversing the effects at this time. Individuals can only prolong the rate of progression or take steps to reduce their potential exposure. You don't want to increase your risk of dementia unnecessarily because you're unwilling to get up and stretch or walk for a bit during your normal workday.

Another risk of sitting at work all day is the increased rate at which an employee might develop anxiety. The healthcare industry is already one of the most stressful and chaotic environments that you might be exposed to, and you don't need to add to that stress by compounding it with increased anxiety from your sedentary work. If you knew there was a way to relieve the stress you were feeling or exposing yourself to just by walking for a few minutes every couple of hours, wouldn't you do it?

The next risk of sitting at work that you might be exposing yourself to is an increased risk of cancer. While scientists haven't pinpointed exactly what might be causing cancer, scientists have been able to determine what could potentially increase the exposure rate to developing cancer. Scientists have recently identified several different types of cancer that might develop directly from leading a sedentary lifestyle. The most common types of cancer that can develop from a sedentary lifestyle are colon cancer, breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, and even endometrial cancer.

You might be asking yourself what careers sit the most? Common sedentary occupations in the United States include Drivers, Administrative Assistants, Writers, Editors, and computer software or IT professionals. In the healthcare industry, some of the most common sedentary healthcare careers consist of Medical Transcriptionists, Health Information Managers, and Medical Coders.

Ways to Reduce the Risks of Sitting at Work

There are several things that you can do to reduce some of the risks of sitting at work for long periods of time. The important thing to remember that improving your sedentary lifestyle is about making simple lifestyle changes that will have a profound effect over a longer period of time.

Although the long-accepted recommendation is for adults to be physically active for a minimum of 30 minutes per day — and children 60 minutes per day — researchers are beginning to suspect that may not be enough. To counteract the effects of a sedentary lifestyle, a variety of strategies are needed to achieve better health. While working out for sixty to seventy-five minutes a day might not completely counteract the effects of a sedentary work lifestyle, working out still goes a long way towards reducing your exposure to the health risks we outlined above.

If you’re a sitter, it’s recommended that you:

  • Check your posture, flex your feet, and take a walk during lunch.
  • Consider a convertible desk or a standing desk, which will let you alternate between standing and sitting throughout the day.
  • Download fitness apps that can help you keep track of your activity levels.

In addition to these tips, you should strive to find ways to move throughout the day. Even if it's just to take a quick walk down to the break room and back, or to the convenience machine to get a snack before heading back to your desk. The next thing that you can do to reduce your risk is to find creative ways to take meetings. Instead of doing the normal routine where you all schedule a time to meet in the conference room for an hour or so, raise the suggestion of taking an interactive meeting where you walk outside for a bit.

That way you're able to interact and get your meeting done while still finding a way to be active throughout the day for an otherwise mundane and routine task where you'd normally be sitting down. The next way in which you can reduce the risks of sitting at work is to spice up your daily interactions. Instead of sitting down all the time when you're responding to someone or interacting with them, stand up so you're stretching out a bit and taking a break from sitting. You don't want to develop an ache in your neck from always looking up to others when you're interacting with them, so spice up your day by standing up every now and then to interact with others.

Health Risks for Standers

“Standers” are defined as those individuals who stand more than four hours per day, and it’s recommended that people do not spend more than two consecutive hours standing
Excessive standing contributes to neck and shoulder stiffness, lower back pain, pain and aching in the legs and feet, pronation of the feet (flat feet), heel spurs, and plantar fasciitis.

Long term, these individuals are at increased risk of stroke, degeneration of the joints and spine, and have an increased risk for preterm birth. Back injuries are common among this population — accounting for 1 in 4 non-fatal occupational injuries.

As Maria Gabriela Garcia, the co-author of a study on back pain notes, “Current work schedules for standing work may not be adequate for preventing fatigue accumulation, and this long-lasting muscle fatigue may contribute to musculoskeletal disorders and back pain.”

In addition to back pain, 83 percent of industrial workers in the U.S. report foot or lower leg pain and discomfort associated with prolonged standing — and those who spend more than half of their working hours standing have a 39 percent increased risk of chronic venous insufficiency.

Earlier we outlined just how drastic it might be to sit at your desk all day or lead a sedentary lifestyle on your health. Just because it's a bad thing to sit all day doesn't mean that you should rapidly change your lifestyle so that you're standing all day. On the contrary, standing all day proves to be just as drastic on your health as sitting, that's why it's important to find a healthy balance.

Who stands the most? Common occupations in the U.S that require excessive standing include Teachers, Wait Staff, Hairdressers, and Barbers. Nearly every healthcare role requires that they stand up for a majority of the day but some roles will be expected to be on their feet for a larger chunk than others. Some of the most common healthcare roles that require extensive amounts of standing and physical activity include Doctors, Surgeons, Athletic Trainers, Certified Nursing Assistants, and Registered Nurses.

Ways to Reduce the Risks of Standing at Work

There are several things that you can do to reduce some of the risks of standing at work for long periods of time.
Recommendations for standers include:

  • Stretch consistently according to your physician’s guidance.
  • Take care of your feet with good shoes that have adequate support and use anti-fatigue mats to stand on.
  • Consider saddle chairs that will give you a hybrid of sitting and standing.

In addition to the tips above, individuals who stand for long periods of time can do a few other things to help them with finding a healthy balance between standing and sitting for long periods of time. The first of which is to try and use adjustable benches while working. Unfortunately, many careers where individuals will stand for long periods of time often have to work at fixed benches that are too tall and require the user to stand. Instead, try to find an adjustable bench that will allow you to adjust your stance or seating posture from time to time. This helps break up some of the extended periods when you're standing. We've already briefly talked about some of the benefits of standing and adjustable desks earlier, but they can't be understated.

The next thing that professionals can do to reduce the risks of standing at work is to try and find ways to adjust your work station. Take steps to ensure that your workstation isn't too crowded or restricts your ability to move around. You don't need to have enough room to run a marathon, but your workstation should be spacious enough to allow you to maneuver and change your body positions from time to time.

Professionals can also reduce the risk of standing at work by taking advantage of support systems that will help reduce the burden they're placing on their bodies. For instance, professionals can utilize knee braces and back braces to help reduce the stress they're placing on their muscles.


Whether your job requires you to sit or stand, doing either for prolonged periods isn’t good for you. However, if you pay attention to what your body needs and follow a few key strategies to find a healthy balance using the tips we've provided, you’ll enjoy your work more — and better health while you do.

Advance your career. Change your life.


( Article / Content Updated 2019 )