The toxicity of our modern lifestyles cannot be overstated. We prioritise productivity over health, and as our world becomes increasingly fast-paced and demands more of us, the more our bodies slow down into a sedentary state. For instance, over the past 50 years in the US, jobs with a sedentary nature have increased by 83% and have left us in a situation where seated jobs now accounts for 80% of all jobs in the country (1). A sedentary lifestyle is widely recognised as being a risk factor for a whole host of diseases and mortalities including cardiovascular disease, cancer-related mortality, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes just to highlight a few (1). With this reality, it is little wonder that there has been a monumental shift towards using standing desks while working in the office (2). Although the benefits of standing while working have been documented, this article will delve deeper into why standing for work may be an oversimplified solution to a deep-seated problem.
The Design of the Human Body
It may seem like implementing standing while working is the obvious solution to those suffering the effects of spending too much time sitting and immobile in an office. However, it’s important to look at the human body as the remarkable piece of evolutionary engineering that it is. Our musculoskeletal system has undergone a lot to get to where we are today and Functional Patterns recognises that our success as a species has come from our ability to perform 4 key tasks to fend for our needs – standing, walking, running, and throwing. These movements have formed the basis of our physical existence and ensured our survival as human beings from a remarkably long time, and still these functions are the cornerstone of our physical capabilities. In stark contrast, the concept of sitting or standing in one position for prolonged periods (particularly in stress states) is a relatively modern development that pushes the limits of how our bodies are meant to operate.
Is Standing Better than Sitting?
It doesn’t take a biomechanical specialist to know that prolonged seated positions can result in pain and discomfort – this happens even quicker if your sitting posture is incorrect (refer to our article on sitting posture - Sit Up and Pay Attention: Mastering Proper Sitting Posture – Functional Patterns). Surely, if you have found yourself reading this article you are well acquainted with pain whilst sitting and are asking yourself, “Is standing better than sitting?”. Unfortunately, the solution does not lie in replacing sitting with standing. Sure, moving to a standing position is likely to provide temporary relief from the discomfort of prolonged sitting, though it fails to address the fundamental issue – we are not designed for extended periods of static positions, or even further, can we even hold ourselves in a decent standing position to start with.
Given all of this, it should come as no surprise to learn that if you experience pain while sitting transitioning to a standing desk will not be the cure-all solution. If you are unable to sit correctly in a way that doesn’t cause you pain, what are the odds you are able to stand correctly? Then, even if you are capable of a good standing position, how long are you capable of maintaining a good position (if at all) before your body fatigues? Add to this your ability to do this whilst concentrating on another task. Further, even with perfect standing posture, we weren’t evolutionarily designed to stand for 8-10 hours a day either. And, assuming you don’t have perfect standing posture, what happens when standing incorrectly also starts to cause you pain (as well as sitting), leaving you with no comfortable positions to operate from?
In the pursuit of healthier office practices, it's crucial to challenge the conventional "sitting vs. standing" paradigm. While standing desks have their merits for allowing a change of position during a long working day, they don't provide a comprehensive solution. A better way to approach the issue would be to strive to master a strong foundation of movement – like walking, running and throwing, whereby better standing and sitting postures would be a byproduct of these improved functions. This is what Functional Patterns training is all about.
To rephrase, the thought behind FP would be to train your body to be robust in all the positions and movements it was designed to execute in a way that takes you away from degeneration and disease and towards health and regeneration. In time, this approach will enable you to perform both seated and standing positions in a manner that is not detrimental to your body.
To demonstrate these points, check out Shaun’s results below. By focusing on the First 4 movements with FP (walking, running, standing, and throwing) he was able to completely change his structure and develop the necessary understanding of how to hold himself and move allowing him to get through his long work days pain-free [Result by FP Practitioner Tim Robinson out of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland Australia].
Our environment and lifestyles are changing rapidly but evolutionary biology does not keep step with these swift changes. Our fundamental biological needs remain the same. If you want to keep your body a well-oiled machine, we must respect this fact. So, while standing desks may have their merits for allowing a change of position once sitting has become painful, they simply don't provide a comprehensive solution to the fact that your body is trying to communicate that it isn’t able to deal with the demands of life. Instead of kicking the can down the road and waiting for standing to become painful too, it seems prudent to listen to what your body and start addressing how it is dealing with those demands.
The key to a healthier office environment is prioritising the natural movements our bodies have evolved for. By incorporating elements of standing, walking, running and throwing in the ways Functional Patterns go about it, we can reduce the risk of discomfort with sitting and standing, and optimize our overall well-being.
To get started, Find a Functional Patterns Practitioner via the FP Practitioners Map here: Find a Practitioner | Functional Patterns Worldwide or get involved with the FP 10-Week Online Program here: Education & Online Courses | Functional Patterns
- Bodker A, Visotcky A, Gutterman D, Widlansky ME, Kulinski J. The impact of standing desks on cardiometabolic and vascular health. Vascular Medicine. 2021;26(4):374-382. doi:10.1177/1358863X211001934
- Ma J, Ma D, Li Z, Kim H. Effects of a Workplace Sit-Stand Desk Intervention on Health and Productivity. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Nov 4;18(21):11604. doi: 10.3390/ijerph182111604. PMID: 34770116; PMCID: PMC8582919.