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Matthew J. Edlund M.D.
Matthew J. Edlund M.D.

Should We Stand At Work?

Stand and deliver.

Julian Jagtenberg at pexels
Source: Julian Jagtenberg at pexels

Is it better to work standing? To stand while you eat? Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, chair of preventive cardiology at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, has published a study of studies showing standing at a desk while working “burns” an extra 0.15 calorie per minute. Is that enough to be worthwhile?

It’s time to examine some of the evidence about whether humans are better upright or seated.

Mortality—Is Sitting the New Smoking?

Sadly, sitting all day is not to your advantage. Mortality risks really do go up when sitting, with some research arguing the truly sedentary double their mortality risk. It's not clear why—some of it appears to do with glucose metabolism and the present bugbear of disease causation theory, inflammation. Decreased survival from sitting is more sad news for disabled people who cannot move but is often passed over by video game makers, cinema operators, computer manufacturers and employers. Happily, getting up every 30 minutes or so seems to mitigate the damage.

The take-home message—humans are walking machines. We do better moving around, wherever we might be.

Weight and Obesity

Is nine calories an hour meaningful to America’s obesity epidemic, where increases of five points on one’s body mass index (BMI) may double the risk of cancer? Sure. Every little bit helps. Some estimate that if overall eating remains the same, standing people might lose five to six pounds a year.

Except things don’t remain equal. When people stand, everything else your body's biological intelligence system shifts. You get a different heart, muscles, and gut when you stand rather than sit.

Take home—you might lose weight by standing at work. Chances are it won’t be big. Standing's real advantages may lie elsewhere.

Standing and Walking

When people stand more during the day they don’t just stand. They move around more. They’re something infectious about standing at work that makes it easier to stay in motion, to add yourself to formerly distant events you would not have jointed stuck in a chair.

Take home—standing more usually means walking more. People who walk in the morning a half hour get fewer colds. People who walk 20-30 minutes, especially briskly, grow more brain cells, in memory areas, at night. People who walk more feel more alert and alive, and particularly when walking in sunlight, are less prone to depression.

Standing may the “gateway drug” to walking.

Standing and GERD

These are stressful times. People are really anxious.

Antacid manufacturers have noticed.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, can be mitigated by gravity. Standing up after a meal, in some studies, may decrease overall symptoms by about half.

Historically, people can eat in several but several hundred different body positions, often engaged in other pleasurable activities beyond simple dining.

Take home—GERD can be decreased by standing after, and perhaps during a meal. You may want to stand ten or 15 minutes after dining if you have reflux, or even better, go take a walk.

Standing and Socializing:

The fourfold path—physical, mental, social and spiritual (purpose and meaning) well being, are impacted differently by standing. The positive physical effects are more obvious, the mental and social ones less appreciated. Standing can be an aid to conviviality. The more social engagements one has the less the risk of stroke, heart attack, and some tumors. Standing makes many of us more alert, more capable of coming up with solutions to unending problems of daily life. Standing at work can also increase the possibility of getting sunlight, seeing nature and glimpsing settings outside the workspace that delight the eye and spirit.

Take home—you might socialize and see more by standing rather than sitting.

Standing and Your Bones

Both men and women lose bone mass with age. Recent articles bemoan the fact that side effects like necrosis of the jaw have caused many to not take bisphosphonates and other drugs that treat osteoporosis.

One way to prevent osteoporosis is to “bear weight.” Standing delivers that. Even better is walking.

Take home—if your physician is increasingly insistent that you take drugs for osteoporosis, consider standing and walking during the day.

Standing and Venous Insufficiency

Oscar Wilde was correct; no good deed goes unpunished. Many do not stand at work because it is uncomfortable and unsightly. One reason is that the “valves” of one’s leg veins, really just muscular rings, may not work very well when people stand all day. Swelling of legs and feet can be extremely bothersome. Many people's backs and legs also cannot tolerate prolonged standing.

Take home—standing for a long time is uncomfortable for some, and can sometimes lead to swollen legs and feet as well as muscle and backaches.

Bottom Line:

Humans evolved to walk. Our biological intelligence learns more by walking. We also get a lot of health benefits—physical, mental, social and perhaps spiritual, just by standing. So if it is not uncomfortable, your employer is accepting, and you can afford it, stand up desks may be useful to you, much as standing and walking after meals are useful.

Personal disclaimer: I now use standing desks both at work and at home. I have not dropped a pound. However, I feel more alive standing at work. My back pain is better. And my transition from physician to typist/data entry technician for health insurers has become a little easier.

Necessities can foster invention.

About the Author
Matthew J. Edlund M.D.

Matthew Edlund, M.D., researches rest, sleep, performance, and public health. He is the author of Healthy Without Health Insurance and The Power of Rest.

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