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How long is the right amount of time to stand during the day

25 July 2023

Even in recent centuries and decades, people walked and stood more during the average day than they do now. At this time in history, with the advent of computer technology, more and more people have been sitting for a longer and longer time. This will slowly but surely change human physiology unless steps are taken to reverse the trend somewhat.

Some people already see indents on their fingers from where they balance their mobile phones. Current medical evidence suggests that these aren't yet permanent, but a lifetime of mobile phone use could easily see them become so.

As far as we have come technologically, it is sometimes tricky to remember that we haven't actually had mobile phones, or even the internet, for all that many decades, and we may not understand the impact over the course of lifetimes until some time later.

The Benefits of Standing Desks

Being able to use a height adjustable desk will be a real game changer for you health-wise. You will burn more calories while standing at your desk than you do while sitting, and also improve your circulation. The transition to using a standing desk often means that you can alternate between the different positions in whichever way feels most comfortable to you, and you will be able to stretch your spine comfortably. Many people report that this helps them to feel more energised and productive, and this can only be a good thing for both the employees and the business.  

The Long-Term Impact of Sitting

When people sit for too long, this can have a substantial impact on their overall health. Prolonged sitting can have all manner of health impacts, and people who have sedentary jobs often don't take enough exercise outside of the time spent at their desk, doing their job to counter-balance these ill effects.

Chronic Health Problems Associated with Sitting Too Much

According to the National Health Service, there are numerous health outcomes associated with sitting for too long. Studies have shown that sitting for extended periods can cause your metabolic rate to drop. This means how the body processes blood sugar, blood pressure and metabolises body fat may be negatively affected.

Any breakdown of the body's ability to process sugars can carry a risk of developing type two diabetes, which is also linked to becoming overweight and obese, which is another outcome of sitting too long on a daily basis. Many adults in the UK spend up to 9 hours per day sitting, and some spend even longer if they work in an office environment. This is far from ideal and can cause some of the health problems outlined.

Another potential risk is a loss of bone density and muscle mass. This can cause bones to break more easily than in other people or for them to dislocate as there is not enough muscle to hold them in place.

This is actually similar to the effect on astronauts who couldn't undertake weight-bearing exercises due to being weightless in space. They were observed to have lost bone density. Because of the impact on their metabolism, they were even believed to have "aged" more quickly in terms of physical deterioration than other people who hadn't been to space.  

There was even a study as far back as the 1950s that showed bus drivers were twice as likely to have heart attacks as their bus conductors, who climbed 600 steps per day as part of their job. This shows the difference quite starkly between sitting down all day and being able to stand up and move around a bit.

In the UK, the Government recommends breaking up the time spent sitting into one or two hourly chunks with a period of activity in between. This doesn’t have to be a lot, and it can be something as simple as taking a brisk walk to the coffee machine or the shop around the corner. The important thing is to break up the time spent sitting, with some time spent on your feet, as this prevents or reduces the prevalence of some of the negative impacts of sitting.   

How Long Should I Stand?

There is no definitive answer to this, but alternating time between working in a seated position and working standing up is a good compromise solution. Anything that can reduce the amount of time that you spend in a sedentary position each day should be welcomed as it will help to keep you healthier and will even burn more calories per hour of standing vs sitting. Being able to stand for an hour and then sit for an hour should help you to strike the right balance. The standing portions of the day may feel challenging at first, but they get easier the more you do them. Once it gets easier, a ratio of 1:1 standing to sitting or 2:1 standing to sitting is often preferred.