Cornell University Ergonomics Research on Sitting vs. Standing

Standing all day in a work environment has long been known to be problematic by increasing the load on the circulatory system, speeding up onset of carotid atherosclerosis, and producing varicose veins and discomfort in the lower limbs. More recently, the negative effects of sitting are receiving attention, including studies on foot swelling, spinal shrinkage, increased heart disease risks and the biochemical changes that lead to the depositing of fats in tissue rather than those fats being metabolized and burned off. And yet research also shows that standing burns about 20% more calories than sitting! How do we solve this riddle? Where’s the balance?

In industries where workers stand all day they are provided with ergonomic anti-fatigue mats, anti-fatigue footwear and insoles, and stools to rest on. In office environments where employees primarily sit, they are provided with ergonomic lumbar-support cushions and chairs, ergonomic mice, keyboards and keyboard trays, and standing desks, and are encouraged to take movement-based microbreaks and engage in periodic stretching. But did you know that even with a standing desk that overuse can lead to carpal-tunnel syndrome when the employee unconsciously tires of standing and begins to lean onto their wrist for support?

The solution lies in variety of movement and proper ergonomic training, according to Professor Alan Hedge of Cornell University’s Department of Design and Environmental Analysis. General research has shown that sitting alone results in the greatest upper limb discomfort, and standing results in the greatest lower limb discomfort. Research at United Parcel Service (UPS) showed that normally sedentary employees who stood at sit-stand workstations 23% of the day had a 62% decrease in body part discomfort and a 50% decrease in injuries and illnesses. Tested employees also felt more energetic and less tired by the end of their day. Variety of movement between sitting and standing was the preferred posture by 70% of those tested.
Professor Hedge outlines the following for variety of movement:

- 20 minutes sitting (use the appropriate ergonomic chair, adjustable keyboard tray with ergonomic keyboard and mouse)
- 8 minutes standing (for sit-stand workstations)
- 2 minutes of standing and moving (gentle stretching, walking, etc.)

Companies should use the above as guidelines to design the environment and work so employees can be more active, comfortable, healthy and productive.

Expand your expertise in sit-to-stand desks and solutions by attending the Best Practices on Sit-to-Stand Desks webinar!