If you work in an office, chances are you spend most of your day in front of a computer screen on an ergonomic office chair. Advances in technology have reduced our need to physically move away from our desks to chat with a colleague, file a document, or mail a letter.
While technology allows us to save time performing these physical tasks, spending too much time sitting at our desks can lead to negative health outcomes such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even premature death. But how much sitting is too much?
Experts generally agree the best ratio of sit to stand time is at least 1:1 – that is, for every one hour you spend sitting at your desk, you should spend another hour standing or engaged in light physical activity, such as walking.
Office workers get the greatest benefit from breaking up their sitting time with physical activity throughout the day rather than doing all their activity in one time block. For example, you may rotate 30 minutes standing and 30 minutes sitting throughout the day. Using a sit stand desk, walking to a colleague’s office rather than sending an email, and holding walking meetings are ways to break up your activity and help you achieve this goal.
While a ratio of at least 1:1 sitting to standing during the workday is optimal for most people, others may need more or less time standing or sitting. If you are not used to standing at work, standing for four hours during the workday may leave you fatigued.
In this case, it is best to start with a smaller goal of standing or engaging in light physical activity for two hours during the workday and gradually work your way up to being more active for longer periods. Such an approach gives your muscles time to adjust and will help avoid muscle fatigue as your body gets used to standing more.
Younger and more active workers may need to spend more time standing or being physically active to avoid the negative health effects of a sedentary workday. These workers may need to spend as much as 45 minutes every hour standing or engaged in physical activity. However, workers should be careful not to stand too much.
Those who spend the entire workday on their feet, such as grocery store cashiers and health care workers, also experience negative effects including discomfort, fatigue, lower leg and back pain, and varicose veins. When possible, workers who spend most of their day standing should try to sit for at least 15 minutes every hour to avoid negative health consequences.
For some people, such as some pregnant workers and those with joint issues or vascular conditions, even a couple of hours a day standing may be too much. If you have a health issue that may affect your ability to stand during the day, check with your doctor before increasing your standing time. You may consider engaging in alternate physical activity, such as chair exercises, to keep your body moving periodically throughout the day.
Avoiding standing or sitting for too long, taking frequent breaks, and gradually finding the right balance for your body is key to optimizing your sitting to standing ratio at work. For most office workers, that means spending at least a couple of hours a day at a standing desk or walking around their office. Investing the time in finding the right balance for you will help you maintain better health and avoid the negative consequences of a sedentary workday.