There are many articles online advising to sit less and be on your feet more.
The Heart Foundation advises it to prevent cardiovascular disease.
The NHS warns of the risks involved - obesity, type 2 diabetes, certain forms of cancer. If you google the benefits of standing, you will come across this article and many more!
Why is sitting not good for you?
The link between sitting and ill health was first established in the fifties when it was discovered that double-decker bus drivers, who sat 90% of the time, suffered double the number of heart attacks than bus conductors who climbed 600 steps each working day.
Your leg muscles and your leg bones don’t have to support you when you sit so they start to atrophy (weaken) if you sit for the greatest part of your day, day in, day out.
If you always sit at the same 90 degree angle, your range of movement at the hip and the knee will decrease because you never put your body in a different configuration. This is why there is no "perfect" position to sit. The body needs variety to stay mobile and healthy:
The reduced strength and mobility in the hips leads to compensation – the back muscles will try and provide the hip extension that is no longer available, so your back will start to tense up because of the extra work required.
What's so good about standing?
Being on your feet helps strengthen your leg bones as bone cells multiply in response to a load, increasing bone density. This has been studied extensively and we know that zero gravity is linked with reduced bone density and muscular atrophy.
Leading sport medicine consultant Dr Loosemore thinks people should stand more often if they value their health.
The problem is that when you stand, you will likely take your sitting shape with you, so you are not strengthening your bones and muscles as much as you think you are. If you stand for long periods, your back might be hurting because you don’t have the strength in the muscles at the back of you (glutes, hamstrings) to hold you.
Please don't go from sitting for hours to standing for hours. It is important to make a gradual transition out of a sedentary lifestyle, so start by adding just a little more standing here and there, to avoid overloading underused tissues, and build up over time. Any signs of discomfort while working at a desk is an indication that a change of position is needed - whether it's taking a walk or stretching your arms. Any sudden and excessive change in movement habits, especially when going from doing too little to doing too much, can be expected to have detrimental effects, as reported in this article and many others on the Internet.
What do health professionals offer as a remedy?
You will find lots of tips for sitting less, moving more but little advice on HOW TO stand better.
As a movement teacher, I show you you can stand in a way that uses and therefore strengthens your lower body.
What I offer
I show you where you tend to carry your centre of gravity and help you find your optimal standing position in order to load your bones and muscles evenly.
How you stand is one of the first things I check during a musculoskeletal assessment.
HOW TO STAND BETTER
Locate your own centre of gravity for whole-body stability.
When you stand with your pelvis over your heels, your weight is evenly distributed between the muscles at the back of your legs and the muscles at the front.
Picture credit: hfsimaging / 123RF Stock Photo
Most people carry their centre of gravity forward. I notice this whenever I watch my son play football. Most spectators stand with their pelvis in front. It is particularly noticeable in tall, slim men! I also see this in the vast majority of my clients during the initial assessment.
I must add that there is no wrong or right way to stand. We are simply considering the benefits and risks of standing with the pelvis forward versus standing with the pelvis back over the heels.
So, the first step is to look at yourself sideways in a mirror.
Take a belt or yoga strap (or a scarf to which you attach a stone, as in the photos below) to use as plumb line and see where your pelvis is.
Once you find it, try and bring it back so your hip stacks over your knee and the knee in turn over your ankle.
Shift your weight back until it is over your heels, not over your toes.
Play with this – move forward and back a few times and try to stand a little bit further back than you are used to, to start using and strengthening the muscles at the back of your legs and taking the load off the front of your knees and your toe joints. Try it with your shoes off, and with your shoes on. Notice the difference if any.
Standing with your pelvis over your heels may feel very odd at first because you won’t have the strength in the back of your legs to hold you there comfortably, but this is the way to start building strength in this area. You want to be weight bearing evenly, strengthening your muscles and increasing your bone density.
This postural adjustment is not spectacular. It’s quite simple, yet powerful. Practise this throughout the day and notice the difference over time. Note when your pelvis starts to shift forward – perhaps when at the kitchen sink or counter, when standing in line or when brushing your teeth. Take a moment to notice (a mirror is helpful!) and gently shift your hips back.
It is important to learn to stand well, before you can balance well and walk well. Standing well is only the first step towards moving more, not an end in itself. We are all better off moving more and in a great variety of ways. And we are also better off educating ourselves and experiencing things for ourselves instead of blindly accepting what we are told by a therapist, movement teacher, physiotherapist or figure of authority. Always question everything you are told so it makes total sense to you as a person.
I suggest you take note of how much time you spend sitting and see if you can stand a bit more in a way that works for you - perhaps have your breakfast standing up, stand sometimes while at your computer or choose to stand in public transports for part of the journey.
Let me know how it goes for you, how your body responds - immediately, after a few days, weeks, months, years!
Do you want to learn more? Visit the Virtual Treatment Room for video guidance on alignment and movement.