New Study Suggests Standing Might Be Worse Than Sitting: Here’s Why That is Not True

John Slater

Remember the recent and viral adage, “sitting is the new smoking?” Well, apparently there’s something even more sinister than sitting: standing.

Wait, what?

According to a new study published last week in the American Journal of Epidemiology, people whose jobs require them to stand (like chefs, bank tellers, and cashiers) are twice as likely to develop heart disease as those whose work is primarily seated.

The research tracked more than 7,300 employed people who took part in the Canadian Community Health Survey over a 12-year period. None had a history of heart disease before the survey, but researchers found that over time, those who spent their days standing had double the risk of developing heart disease compared to their seated cohorts.

So if sitting is like smoking, and standing is worse than sitting, what the hell are we supposed to do? Curl up in the fetal position or die?

Not so fast, says Melissa Leber, Director of Emergency Department Sports Medicine at Mount Sinai.

“You should be very minimally concerned by these results,” she says on the anti-standing research. Leber was not involved with the study. “In general, there is no way you can say being more active could be more harmful for you.”

MORE: 5 Moves to Offset a Day’s Worth of Sitting

For starters, it’s just one study, Leber says, against a sea of evidence that supports the harmful effects of sitting. And while the study size was relatively large, “it’s not enough to extrapolate that standing jobs are more dangerous,” she says.

In an interview with TODAY, Peter Smith, the standing study’s lead author and a senior scientist at the Institute for Work & Health in Toronto, explained the results this way: standing for long periods of time can cause blood to pool in your legs, forcing your body to work harder against gravity to move it back to the heart. This increases pressure in your veins, which over time, can increase your risk of heart disease.

While there is “some legitimacy” to that explanation, Leber says, prolonged standing “wouldn’t necessarily lead to heart disease.” What it probably could do (emphasis on the could): worsen pre-existing conditions for anyone who had susceptibility to heart disease.

In reality, risk of cardiovascular disease is “a multi, multi-factorial thing,” Leber says. It includes things that are out of your control — like genetics — as well as things within your control, like diet and lifestyle.

“One thing that is in your control is picking a job you enjoy doing,” Leber says, explaining that when it comes to your overall health, mental well-being and stress management trump the very, very minor effects of a standing vs. sitting job.

And even so, whether you stand or sit, there are simple things you can do to mitigate the health risks of each.

If you’re vertical most of the day, stay loose by shifting your body weight from side-to-side and bend your knees so that you contract blood and move it upwards, Leber says. This will lessen the chances of blood pooling in your lower half.

Those who are desk-bound: make an effort to walk around for a few minutes every hour, she advises.

In sum, find a job you’re happy at, and move your limbs from time to time. It’s not much more complicated than that. 

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