If you have back or joint pain and you spend a lot of time during the day sitting, here’s a simple tip: Stand up. Too much sitting is bad for your health, including for your bones and joints. Our bodies are meant to move.
“Standing is better than sitting because we have the benefits of motion,” says Cleveland Clinic physical therapist Adam Kimberly, DPT. Your muscles are working when you stand. But you shouldn’t stand all day either. Static positioning of any kind for long periods of time is not good. “Variety is the key,” he says.
Backed by Research
Kimberly knows firsthand the benefits of alternating between standing and sitting during the day. When he became a manager, his job involved spending more time at a desk. Intrigued by the research, he decided to try using an adjustable height desk, and he hasn’t gone back. “I like the options it gives me for movement throughout the day,” he says.
The research is convincing. A study published in the journal Ergonomics (April 2018) combined results from eight studies and found that use of sit-stand desks reduced low back pain among workers by up to 50 percent. A study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology (March 2018) found that standing burns more calories than sitting.
When you sit for too long, the muscles in the front of the hip (hip flexors) can become shorter, and the muscles in the buttocks (gluteals) can become overstretched and weak. “When it comes to strength and range of motion, if you don’t use it you lose it,” says Kimberly.
When you stand, those muscles are naturally stretched out. They’re in the midrange of their length, so they don’t tighten up as much. When you sit, you’re not using the muscles that actively stabilize a joint to keep it in position. “We just hang out in a chair and let gravity do its work,” says Kimberly. When you stand, you use more muscles, including in the ankles and calves. This helps to pump more blood, which prevents swelling in the lower legs.
Standing is also better for your back. “Many people don’t sit with great posture,” says Kimberly. The back is flexed and the midspine is rounded, which puts stress on the joints in the spine. Also, when you sit, the chair supports you and you’re not using muscles. When you stand, muscles that support your spine and muscles deep in the pelvis work harder because they’re working against gravity to prevent fallingover.
You also need to move. When you stand at a desk, do something to change your position at least every five minutes, Kimberly suggests. This can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, tapping your toes, or doing a few heel raises.
If you want an even greater workout while working, use a treadmill desk. While seated, you can add movement by using a rocker board or a pedal exerciser that goes under the desk. “These are good as long as you can move through a pain-free range of motion,” says Kimberly.
You should also make a point of walking around a bit during the day. “A standing desk is beneficial because it’s easier to walk away if you’re already standing than if you have to get up from a chair,” says Kimberly.