THE BLOG

Beware of the 'Standing at Work' Craze....

19/05/2014 14:49 BST | Updated 19/07/2014 10:59 BST

Over the last year, there have been an increasing number of reports in the national media about health problems linked with sitting all day at work. Being seated all day seems to be associated with a plethora of problems not least of which include heart disease, diabetes and of course, obesity. Many reports have focused upon the obvious opposite of this - to stand all day at work. They have even gone so far as to suggest desks that can be raised to different levels, allowing workers to adjust their workstations to their own height allowing them to stand rather that sit all day. However, is this what the research has actually suggested?

There is a world of difference between saying that sitting all day causes health problems due to inactivity and supposing that standing all day is the solution.

Standing for long periods of time has its own problems. Most importantly in my world, professions that demand long periods of time standing such as hairdressers, teachers and even surgeons, have been shown to have far more severe venous diseases when they have varicose veins than those in more sedentary jobs. It is important to highlight that it is not the standing that causes varicose veins; rather it is in the 20 to 30% of people who have venous reflux disease (varicose veins or "hidden varicose veins") that deteriorate far faster when having to stand for long periods throughout the day. This deterioration increases the risks of thrombophlebitis, skin changes such as brown stains or venous eczema around the ankle and even leg ulcers.

So before advocating standing for all office workers, we have to be pretty certain that standing all day is beneficial.

Although almost any doctor would agree that sitting all day with minimal exercise is not good for a variety of health reasons, it is not a logical step to think that standing will have the opposite effect. Indeed, it is much more likely that a far bigger benefit would be found from those that sit at work but who get up to their feet regularly, emulating a partial "squat" advocated at almost every keep fit class on the planet. The more a person stands up from their chair and then sits down onto it, the more exercise they are doing and the more benefit they will be doing their heart, muscles, bones and of course, veins. If they then decided to add a walk of a few paces on top of this action, it would only be to the good.

Before trendy businesses decide to jump on the standing only bandwagon and get rid of their chairs and sit-down desks, replacing them with more complicated and potentially more expensive variable height desks to stand at, I would suggest proper research is done. We already know sitting is not good for long periods of time for us. We need to identify what advantages, if any, standing all day might have over sitting and indeed what other health problems this might cause. Anyone sensible enough to start this research should also add in a third group - people who sit all day but every 15 to 30 minutes stand up and sit down 5 to 10 times a row or stand up, walk 20 paces and sit down again.

I suspect that as with many things in life, when a problem is found, the simple opposite of the cause of the problem is not always the solution. Sometimes common sense and understanding of the problem can lead to a far better solution which does not have increased economic and organisational costs.