Most occupations or jobs today, fall under two main categories – sitting or standing. Bankers, writers, auditors, bus drivers, executive secretaries, and everyone who works with a computer, spend most of their day sitting.
On the other hand, nurses, waiters, food preparation workers, servers, and dishwashers, spend most of their workday standing. If you flick through any health-related website, magazine or journal, there is a high chance you will come across articles, saying that prolonged sitting is dangerous to your health.
However, prolonged standing at work also comes with its fair share of health problems. So, between a standing job and a sitting job, which one is better for your health?
Consequences of Prolonged Standing
Nurses, factory packers, construction workers, security guards, as well as people who work in the hospitality industry, spend most of their day standing. Nurses get the luxury of being able to walk around in roomy footwear, or shoes that are otherwise comfortable to wear. As much as standing is a natural human posture, prolonged standing can lead to various health issues such as joint problems, muscle fatigue, back pain, and aching feet. Also, working in a working position for prolonged periods can also contribute to neck and shoulder stiffness, varicose veins, sore feet, and leg swelling. When you are standing in a single spot for long periods, a great deal of muscular effort is needed, to maintain an upright body posture. Prolonged standing might also restrict the adequate flow of blood to the different parts of the body, thus triggering discomfort and fatigue in the legs, neck, and back. Recent studies also indicate that working in a standing position for long periods can contribute to preterm birth and miscarriage, a higher risk of stroke, as well as long-term damage to the spinal joints.
Mitigating the Risks
As noted above, prolonged standing at work will accelerate fatigue and tiredness, while increasing the risk of various medical complications. However, prolonged sitting might not be the solution, since it comes with it also comes with several health complications. To avoid the health risks that come with prolonged standing, you should:
- Wear the right work shoes: If you spend the entire day on your feet, then you need to wear proper footwear. You need a pair of shoes that is comfortable and cushioned. Your work shoes should also provide adequate room for your toes to move and wiggle. Also, there is a high chance that your feet will swell during the day. Therefore, you should ensure that the shoes you are wearing can provide that room. Avoid shoes with high soles or heels, since they might accelerate damage to your feet, leading to pain. Also, heels and shoes with high soles can promote imbalance, leading to foot strains, tight calf muscles, knee pain, Achilles tendonitis as well as back problems. Always wear flat shoes, with the right amount of arch support. You can also enhance the level of comfort and support that your shoes offer using custom orthotics and insoles. Insoles provide arch support and cushioning while making your feet feel comfortable, especially for those whose work involves prolonged standing. On the other hand, custom orthotics will correct your pronation, while providing pain relief caused by conditions like plantar fasciitis, bursitis, and arthritis.
- Wear compression stockings: Compression stockings are specially designed, stretchy and snug-fitting socks, which apply gentle pressure to your ankles and legs. They help to reduce swelling, improve blood circulation, and alleviate other painful and annoying foot conditions that arise from prolonged standing. And the good news is, you can find them almost anywhere, including online marketplaces, general stores, pharmacies, as well as medical supply stores, just to name a few.
- Stretch regularly: If you spend the whole day standing on a single spot, there is a high chance you will end up with stiff muscles and joints. To prevent that from happening, you need to stretch your body as much as you can. Also, changing your standing spot and position regularly will promote blood circulation to your legs, thus minimizing stiffness and fatigue. Runner stretches and calf raises are some of the best stretching exercises for people who stand all day. Yoga is equally an effective stretching exercise. Practicing yoga poses regularly will help to loosen and strengthen your muscles and joints.
- Take sitting breaks: As much as your job entails standing throughout your shift, you should take sitting breaks whenever you find an opportunity. For instance, when you are receiving a call or filing paperwork, you should do so while seated, instead of standing. Also, when you are taking lunch, take this opportunity to sit down and let your feet rest. And if your workplace doesn’t have a lunchroom or the available chairs are insufficient, then you should bring your own. Nearby food courts, water fountains or outdoor picnic tables are among the other places that you can sit and rest during lunch.
- Change your substrate: Most workplaces have floors made of marble, ceramic tile, and concrete. Unfortunately, such materials lack insulative, shock absorbency and cushioning properties. If you spend most of your workday standing on such floors, you will end up with aching legs, feet, and back. To minimize the pain and discomfort that comes with standing all day, you should place an anti-fatigue under your feet every time you are working. An anti-fatigue mat will provide a cushioned platform to stand on, thus helping your legs and to survive the long shifts of standing at work.
- Adopt the correct standing posture: Poor standing posture can lead to injury and pain in your knees, back, heels, and feet. It might also lead to breathing difficulties. When standing, make sure your belly button is pulled in and your back is straight. You should also keep your head up high and avoid slouching your shoulders. And if you’ve been standing for a long period, shift your weight from your toes to the heels or from one foot to the other.
Apart from the above interventions, massaging your feet when you reach home will also help to alleviate pain and discomfort. Soaking your feet in Epsom salts will also reduce swelling and inflammation.
Consequences of Prolonged Sitting
Most desk workers such as accountants, receptionists, administrative assistants, software developers, insurance agents, and human resource specialists, spend a minimum of 10 hours a day sitting. This means that they have little time to engage in any form of physical activity. While sitting can feel relaxing and comfortable, it can also contribute to various health risks. Some of the negative side effects of prolonged sitting at work include:
- Obesity: Increased weight gain is one of the most obvious consequences of sitting all day at work. When you spend your entire day sitting, you will definitely burn fewer calories than someone who is standing up. You burn more calories when you’re constantly on the move. And if you don’t take appropriate measures to tackle this issue, you might end up becoming obese.
- Muscle degeneration: When you are standing or moving around, you are constantly utilizing your body muscles. But when you remain seated for extended periods, your body muscles go unused, and you might eventually end up with a weak middle section. Prolonged periods of sitting might also make your hips tight, thus limiting their degree of motion. Also, your glutes might weaken due to lack of utilization, thus affecting your stamina and stability when walking, jumping or undertaking demanding tasks.
- Heart disease: As noted above, you burn a few calories and your blood circulation is not optimal when you sit for long periods. As a result, fatty acids will end up blocking the arteries in the heart. Therefore, when you spend your entire day sitting on a chair, you are increasing the chances of developing heart disease. Also, your pancreas might end up producing a higher level of insulin than your body needs, thus leading to diabetes. Studies have also linked prolonged sitting to endometrial, breast and colon cancers.
- Posture problems: Apart from leading to muscle degeneration, prolonged sitting can lead to back, shoulders and neck problems. And as your shoulders and neck stiffen and curve due to prolonged sitting, your spine will eventually lose its flexibility. Eventually, you will end up with a poor posture. Poor posture can lead to pain in the neck, back, legs, shoulders, and hips.
Without a doubt, sitting for long periods can lead to various health issues such as heart problems, obesity, muscle degeneration, diabetes, and even early death. So, how can you alleviate the health risks associated with prolonged sitting? Here are some tips to consider.
- Incorporate exercises into your routine
- Walk during meetings
- Take a break every 30 minutes
- Stretch as you work
As much as it might not always be possible, you need to create time every day for a walk. Regardless of where you work, walking at least 30 minutes per day will help your muscles and body to stretch. For instance, instead of taking the lift, you should instead use the stairs. When going to fetch lunch for coffee, you should walk instead of going with a car. Incorporating movement into your routine, even if it’s leisurely, will help you to burn more calories, leading to increased energy and healthy weight loss. It will also improve your physical and mental well-being.
Whether you are an accountant who spends the whole day parked in front of a screen or you work in a professional kitchen where you have to spend the whole day on your feet, every occupation comes with its fair share of positives and negatives. However, quitting your job might not be the best solution. Simply adding more movement to your workday, should help you to alleviate the health risks that come with standing or sitting all day at work. Also, you need to visit your physician for regular medical checkups. And always remember to take care of your body – whether you are working or not.