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Experts Recommend 2-4 Hours of Standing During Workday

That old REM song was right: you should stand in the place where you work. And now, according to some researchers, you can tack on "for about 2 to 4 hours a day" to the lyrics.

A new consensus statement from an international expert panel has established that workers whose jobs are "predominantly desk-based" should stand at least 2 hours per workday and move toward the goal of 4 hours of standing for optimum health. The recommendations were developed in response to multiple studies that have established the negative health effects of prolonged sitting, and media coverage that dubbed sitting as "the new smoking."

The consensus statement was published in a recent issue of BMJ (.pdf).

According to statement authors, the conclusions are based on "the totality of the current evidence, including long-term epidemiological studies and interventional studies of getting workers to stand and/or move more frequently."

Authors are careful to point out that they're not simply talking about sitting all day vs standing all day, and they offer recommendations on how light physical activity should be incorporated into the workday. Those recommendations include advice to work up to the 4-hour-per-day standing goal, to regularly break up seated and standing work, and to pay attention to "musculoskeletal sensations." Those sensations, they write, may be a normal part of the adaptive process, but they could also mean that the worker should rest for a time or see a health care provider if the sensations persist.

Workers should also remember that it's not an all-or-nothing proposition, authors write. "Similar to the risks of prolonged, static, seated positions, so too should prolonged, static, standing postures be avoided; movement does need to be checked and corrected on a regular basis especially in the presence of any musculoskeletal sensations."

While authors recommend the use of adjustable sit-stand desks and say that further study may galvanize the need for more changes to the actual workplace, they warn that sedentary work habits probably won't be altered by new furniture alone—an opinion echoed in a recent Cochrane review of standing desk use.

"There are … strong indications that simply changing the office environment might not be enough to invoke long-term change in behavior," authors write. "Strategies and programs for implementing change will need careful organizational and behavioral support and public education to prevent current interests in active office environments from simply being a passing fad."

APTA offers information that physical therapists and physical therapist assistants can share with patients and clients on the negative impacts too much sedentary time at the APTA MoveForward webpage on sitting.

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