Should You Sit or Stand at Work?

Today’s health and wellness recommendations can sometimes seem like Texas weather: wait five minutes, and it’ll change.

Remember when marathoners took ibuprofen religiously before races? Studies later revealed those pre-workout NSAIDs could be dangerous. How many times has thinking flip-flopped regarding runners and stretching? Can you say with any certainty whether healthy nutrition should include dietary supplements?

That whole “eight glasses of water a day” thing–has this directive ever actually been proven? 

No wonder we get confused about healthy practices.

Unhealthy Work Habits

sitting is the new smoking quote attributed to media

Around 2012, health research revealed adverse affects from prolonged sitting. Getting stuck behind the office desk, we learned, was practically killing Americans.

When I’d returned to an office job in 2011, sitting all day was torturous. My body rebelled; my muscles got stiff, my mind felt sluggish.

The Mayo Clinic quotes aggregate data (that’s combined information from a cluster of related studies) showing health risks associated with an eight-hour sedentary workday are similar to obesity or smoking. Holy crap! 

Between the new science and my personal experience, I jumped on the anti-sitting bandwagon. Adopting a standing position felt like an easy solution.

Standing Up for Health

computer screen with words "get up and move every hour"Have you noticed a change at work? Really cool businesses brought in stand-up desks. My super cool ultra marathoner friends, like Joanna, combined their new stand-up desks with a treadmill. These people trained AND worked at the same time! Mind blown.

Once I’d opted out of the magazine and returned to freelancing, my work space underwent a remodel. Naturally, my new home office would include a stand-up desk. But I opted for choice; sometimes I’d want to sit and, being nothing if not practical, my inexpensive desk easily adjusts to any height (thank you, Ikea!).

Finding the Middle Ground

Wait long enough and health studies will changeThe New York Times just published an article, “Are You Sitting Down? Standing Desks Are Overrated.” That click bait title suggests current research disputes previously discovered health benefits associated with standing at work.

But that’s not really the case. After providing some background, author Aaron E. Carroll points to new studies showing sitting and standing are often health markers. What he actually says is context matters. Depressed people, for example, are more sedentary; those whose jobs demand time on their feet develop varicose veins. So even though  plenty of large, quality studies spanning years link prolonged sitting with “increased all-cause mortality across sexes, ages, and body mass,” other research can dispute the health in standing.

And so here we are again: wait long enough, and somebody’s going to send the health study vane spinning in a different direction.

Happily, scientific research isn’t as uncontrollable as Texas weather. However you call it–common sense, moderation, failure to commit–a happy medium resolves the sitting/standing desk debate. Options matter.

Since standing on the job, my body feels better. Less slouching, stiffness, and stillness make Leah a happy worker. Sitting when I want (and need) gives my legs and feet a rest, works my arm (cranking that adjustable desk, baby!), and shifts my body.

Best of all, cutting the chair chain encourages me to go one step further:  walk a bit, attempt some hula hooping, or dance at my desk.

So, back to the original question: should you sit or stand at work? Answer: Yes!

weather vane with title The Changing Winds of Health Research

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Published by Leah Nyfeler

I'm a writer, editor, runner, and adventurer who is always looking for the next new story, exciting adventure, and good meal/book/movie. My focus is on helping people find their best, healthiest self through sharing what I know and how I've come to learn it. In addition to my blog "Enjoying the Journey: Observations on the Fit Life" at, my articles have appeared in a variety of print and online magazines. You can hear me as part of the 2015 Austin cast of Listen To Your Mother.

4 thoughts on “Should You Sit or Stand at Work?

  1. Thanks for the shout out, Leah!! I love my treadmill desk!! I have a real (read: electric) treadmill desk at home (NordicTrack), the one at work is manual so I can just stand or walk, and I do both. When I go to my other offices, I have the stand up desk and stand on a balance board (IndoBoard) at one, and another type of foam balance trainer at the one in San Marcos. I haven’t sat at work (other than when in the hospital when charting) since 2012!

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