Sitting Might Harm Your Health, But When Is It Best Practice?

Being on your butt for fewer than three hours a day could add two years to your life span, according to a 2012 study in the British Medical Journal's BMJ Open. But for office workers, that's easier said than done. Because the mere thought of spending the day upright is exhausting, we asked leading "sitting disease" experts when to stand at work and when to take a load off.

In a meeting: STAND
"The cultural norm is to sit through those two-hour meetings, but we should really be standing up," says David Dunstan, an associate professor at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, in Melbourne, Australia. His studies have shown that breaks from sitting can help control blood sugar. One beneficial side effect: "Shorter meetings."

On the phone: STAND
"People are more present during phone calls when they're in a standing position," says Nico Pronk, founding president of the International Association for Worksite Health, who adds that standing during lunch, coffee breaks, and conference calls can easily add up to an extra hour on your feet every day.

At your review: SIT
Though the employees at Caldrea (maker of Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day products) eagerly converted to sit-stand desks for a University of Minnesota study, CEO Kevin Rutherford says he still takes a seat when things get touchy. "Performance reviews are high-pressure situations," he says. "When you stand, it looks like you're on a power trip."

Project Planning: SIT
"Thinking big thoughts, organizing a great deal of information, or even writing poetry is the sort of work that is best done sitting down," says Mayo Clinic endocrinologist James Levine, one of the earliest advocates of the treadmill desk. "I wrote my second novel while sitting--though I did do the editing on a treadmill."

Illustration by Will Bryant

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2 Comments

  • Kathleen

    Actually, I teach teams how to plan projects standing up - using whiteboards and paper on walls to diagram and organize complex activities - we've built schedules that wrap around a large room twice! It can also be effective alone. The key is to have room to spread out. Afterwards we capture everything in other media, but the deep thinking is done standing!