Is sitting down really that bad for your health?

Some have dubbed sitting the ‘new smoking’ thanks to clear links between an increasingly sedentary lifestyle and various health problems. The good news is that even if you work in an office or spend most of your day in front of a screen, there are ways to avoid sitting for extended periods – from standing desks to exercise breaks to walking meetings.

Here, we explore the risks associated with prolonged sitting, and offer several different ways to make standing up a bigger part of your everyday routine.

Risks of sitting down for prolonged periods

Sitting down for hours on end has been linked to a range of health problems, including:

This is partly because when we sit, our metabolism slows down and our body burns fewer calories than when we are standing or moving around. Sitting for long periods can also lead to poor blood circulation and lower muscle activity. Studies have even found that reducing sedentary behaviour or sitting time could have a positive impact on our mental health, with an decreased risk of depression and anxiety.

Could standing desks be the solution?

Standing desks allow you to stand while working and have attracted attention as a way to combat the negative health effects of sitting down for extended periods. This may even reduce back pain and improve posture. Over time, they may even promote weight loss as research indicates that substituting sitting with standing can increase energy expenditure. Perhaps most importantly for employers, standing desks have been found to increase productivity, with workers who use them reporting greater focus and concentration.

Demise of the Swiss ball

At one point, Swiss balls – or stability balls – were touted as a way to combat the negative effects of sitting. Sitting on a Swiss ball was thought to improve balance and core strength, as well as promote better posture. However, research has suggested that this may not be as effective as previously thought. In fact, they may lead to increased discomfort and musculoskeletal pain, as well as a decrease in productivity. Because using a ball as a seat is inherently unstable, it may also increase the risk of falls and injuries while working at your desk.

4 ways to incorporate more standing into your routine

If you don't have access to a standing desk, there are still ways to make standing a bigger part of your daily routine:

  • Every hour, take a five-minute break from sitting to stand up, stretch or move around.
  • Try ‘stand-up work sessions’ where you work for a short period of time while standing – even 15 to 30 minutes could make a big difference.
  • Stand up and walk around your office or outside whenever you have to make a call.
  • Try incorporating more standing activities into your day, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, getting off the train or bus one stop early, going for a walk outside at lunchtime, or doing a quick stretching routine next to your desk.
  • If you have a sit-down meeting lined up, ask the other participants if they would like to try a ‘walking meeting’ instead.

When it comes to the amount of time you spend either sitting or standing during the day, the key is to find a good balance between both – whatever your routine, you should definitely be incorporating more movement into your working day.

Focusing on your health

If you're interested in using a standing desk or other ergonomic devices, it's important to do your research and talk to your healthcare professional to make sure you use them safely and effectively.

Thinking about your health while working could be a great chance to review your life insurance policy – this can help you decide if you are covered for what you need. Consider speaking to our team at Guardian Insurance to help protect the life you have built or consider getting a quote for life insurance online.