Stand Up to Help Your Health

By: Laurie S. Herr

Spending time on your feet delivers some surprising health benefits. But it also has risks, new research says. Here are the pros and cons, along with simple ways to sit less and stand more throughout your day—no standing desk required.

Stand Up to Help Your Health

Sitting all day at a desk or plopped in front of the TV can do more than leave you achy and stiff. Multiple studies show that hours of sitting can up your risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease—even if you get the recommended 2½ hours of exercise each week.

But don't rush out to buy that standing desk just yet. New research suggests that, while standing more can help offset the negative effects of too much sitting, staying on your feet all day can hurt your health too. Here are the pros and cons of standing more—plus some simple ways to get off your bum throughout your day.

Related: How Stretching Can Help You Stay Healthy

Health Benefits of Standing

A recent study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology suggests that standing may help with weight loss—a little. Looking at results from 46 studies, researchers found that standing burns an extra 0.15 calories a minute. At that rate, a 140-pound person who stands for six hours could burn an extra 54 calories a day, potentially losing around five pounds a year.

True, that kind of calorie burn won't help you fit into your swimsuit in a hurry. But standing more may help prevent weight gain, the study authors say. Other ways standing may help your health, according to several studies:

  • Better mood
  • Less back and shoulder pain
  • More stable blood sugar
  • More movement overall (because let's face it: most of us fidget on our feet)
  • Lower risk of diabetes and obesity due to less time sitting

Health Risks of Standing Too Much

You don't want to overdo it, though. Recent research has found that standing for long stretches at a time can lead to varicose veins, backaches, fatigue, slower thinking and reduced productivity.

And that's not all. A 12-year study of more than 7,000 people found that workers who stood on the job day in and day out—people like bank tellers, hair stylists and retail clerks—had nearly double the risk of heart disease compared to those who mostly sat. Standing that much may make it harder for your heart to pump blood to your upper body, creating pressure on the veins and raising the risk of heart problems, the researchers say.

The bottom line? Get off your bottom more. If you work at a desk, take frequent breaks to stand up and move around. You'll lessen the effects of sitting and gain the perks of standing without overdoing it.

Try these tips to sneak in more stand-up time throughout your day.

Standing at Work

Stand Up to Help Your Health

If you have an office job, you don't have to stop work to start standing more. Here are some ideas:

  • Try taking calls on your feet or invite your colleagues to stand-up or walking meetings.
  • Take advantage of time at the copier to stand while you print a report or make a habit of drinking your coffee upright. When you associate a particular activity with standing, you'll be more likely to remember to get out of your chair.
  • And, there's no reason to plop down in your colleague's spare chair while you're working on a project together—you may even find that you're more creative when you're on your feet.
  • If you already have a standing desk, listen to your body and take breaks when you need to. Standing puts pressure on your lower back, knees, feet and legs, so switch to a chair when you start to tire. Some experts recommend the 20-8-2 rule: sit for 20 minutes, stand for 8, stretch or walk for 2. Varying your desk height can help too.
  • Don't forget to take posture checks: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees straight but not stiff, shoulders up and back. No hunching!

Out and About

  • Turn the time you spend flipping through magazines in doctors' waiting rooms into standing time and you'll feel less like you're wasting time (and you can always read on your feet!).
  • When you're in transit, give your seat to someone else on the subway or bus—you'll use even more muscles just by balancing on a moving vehicle.
  • If you're flying somewhere, counteract the seatbelted time on board the plane by standing up while you're waiting to board. And don't be tempted to sink into a chair while waiting for your baggage. You might feel tired (or jetlagged), but sitting will just make you more lethargic.

Standing at Home

Housework is a great way to squeeze in some lifestyle activity time.

  • Volunteer to cook dinner or wash the dishes.
  • Maximize your TV time by standing up to iron and fold laundry. Wiping down windows and mirrors counts too.
  • While you're at it, climb a few stairs and carry that laundry basket—the more you move, the better.

Watch: Stress Less, Lose Weight

Related:

Pack-and-Go Healthy Lunch Recipes for Work
The Health Benefits of Cardio
Easy Ways to Make Walking Part of Your Routine
Fitness Tips for Busy Multitaskers

Some original reporting by Lindsay Warner.