Work: To Sit or to Stand?

Work: To Sit or to Stand?

Veronique Yeon, MScPT

Our lifestyles have become more and more sedentary.

Sit to eat breakfast, sit to get to work, sit at work, sit for lunch, sit to come home, sit to eat supper, maybe workout for 30-60min and then sit and watch TV. 

We sit for more than half the day and most of this time is spent at work! In this short blogpost, my goal is to inform and give you tools on how to help your body at work. And I am sure you’ve heard them all, from the $300 ergonomic chair, to the treadmill desk, to now standing all the time. I know... Isn’t it confusing!?!?

Well the real killer isn’t sitting or standing posture. Ready for this... What causes issues is maintaining a static position for a prolonged period of time, and improper movement patterns. I heard this very interesting saying once that we as human beings are adapting our bodies to our lifestyle, versus adapting our lifestyle to our body and how it functions. For example, we are adapting our body to sit all day when our body was made to move.

Whether you are a cashier standing at a register or a computer programmer sitting at a desk all day, I have seen both in the clinic reporting different pains related to work, and both have their drawbacks.

Effects of Prolonged Sitting:

  • Reduces muscle activity that can lead to muscular imbalances overtime.  
  • Glutes are inactive
  • Hip flexors are contracted
  • Quads and hamstring activity is decreased
  • Lumbar spine muscles and abdominal muscles are contracting to try and maintain the posture upright
  • Head and shoulders may be forward
  • Prolonged sitting reduces blood flow.
  • In addition, the Canadian Centre of Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) found that sitting causes higher levels of sugar and fats, larger waistlines, increased risk of metabolic syndrome

Effects of Prolonged Standing:

  • Leads to muscle fatigue
  • According to the CCOHS, it can also lead to:
  • Sore feet,
  • Swelling of the legs,
  • Varicose veins,
  • General muscular fatigue,
  • Low back pain,
  • Stiffness in the neck and shoulders

Can you see a pattern now? Neither is better. What you need to remember is to change position. In one study they asked individuals to sit for 20 minutes and then stand for 20 minutes. In the end they found that circulation was the best after the standing portion of the test. Your muscles act as a pump for your circulatory system. Staying in one static position for more than 1 hour means that your muscles are contracting at the same rate for 60 min, therefore reducing blood flow. Think of it on a bigger scale, if I told you to hold your arm out at shoulder level for 10 minutes, I can guarantee that some of you would start feeling soreness in that shoulder muscle. Well think of your hip muscles or back muscles contracting at that same rate for 1 hour, 2 hours, even sometimes 3 hours or more.

In the end, sit to stand desks are great, but sometimes it can be a headache to try and get one. So here are a few ideas:

  • Every 40-50 min go for a brisk walk for 5-10 min
  • Take your phone calls or read a paper standing
  • Get up every 40-50 min and do a 3-5 min stretching routine
  • Change your seat angle; sit at the edge of your seat. Ideally change positions every 20min.
  • Take away the chair and kneel on the ground for a bit
  • Workstation Popcorn - Make your to do list for the day and plan it around coffee shops or different workstations.
  • Dr. Kelly Starett even talks about optional vs non-optional sitting situations. For example if you take the bus you have the option of sitting or standing (on certain buses), but on the other hand if you drive your car, you have no choice but to be sitting.

Other great resources:

Deskbound written by Kelly Starett

Ergonomics on how to setup your desk

Tedx talk on The unexpected Physical Consequences of Technology by Dr. Eric Goodman

Fantastic article on posture at work



Gao. Y (2016) Muscle activity patterns and spinal shrinkage in office workers using a sit-stand workstation versus a sit workstation.

E.F.Graves. L (2015) Evaluation of sit-stand workstations in an office setting: a randomised controlled trial.

Restaino RM and al. (2015) Impact of prolonged sitting on lower and upper limb micro- and macrovascular dilator function.

Canadian Centre of Occupational Health and Safety.

Canadian Centre of Occupational Health and Safety.

Lee, Kevan. (2014). The Healthiest Way to work. (searched Dec 12, 2016)

Paddock, Catharine (July 2015) (searched Dec 18, 2016)

Łastowiecka-Moras E. (2016) How posture influences venous blood flow in the lower limbs: results of a study using photoplethysmography

All pictures were searched on Dec 12, 2016

Hall, Brad. Kid eating Breakfast.

 (Oct 2010)The New Yorker Cartoon Anti-Caption Contest #259.

123rf. Middle age work addict geek sitting at the computer desk. Flat style vector illustration isolated on white background.

Leishman, Ron. Cartoon Guy Sitting in a Recliner Watching TV.

Vector Illustration. Copyright IvanNikulin.