The average person with an office job spends 7 to 10 hours seated in a chair each day, and there are many evidence-based studies that indicate that sitting for too long, is a habit that can shorten a person’s life. Add to that another 7 hours laying in bed for a night’s sleep, and many of us are spending a lot less time on our feet than we should.
But what if this was reversed, and people spent a lot more time on their feet? What would be the result? Let’s find out, in this episode of The Infographics Show: What If you Could Never Sit or Lay Down?
We need to stand, stretch our legs, and keep our body moving, but there are also many complications with long-term or prolonged standing, walking or running. And though many people spend their day sitting at the office, there are also plenty of jobs that require standing for long periods of time. Retail staff, bartenders, Baristas, security guards, assembly line workers, catering staff, library assistants, hair stylists, the list goes on. Let’s take a look at 5 of the most common issues these people face as a result of those long days standing on their feet:
slouching is often described as improper posture, the spine in an unnatural position in relation to other parts of the body. As you get tired, it is very easy to let your shoulders slump, your back to arch, and to allow your body sag into a slouching posture. This puts stress on your muscles and joints, and constantly holding the 20-pound weight of your head, forces your neck and back muscles to work overtime, which can lead to headaches. If your spine isn’t aligned properly, it can affect your rib cage, which risks damage to your heart and lungs, as well as issues within parts of the digestive system.
Varicose veins are veins that have become enlarged and twisted, most commonly within the legs, ankles and feet. If you spend long periods of time standing, the effect of gravity draws the blood downwards. As blood is pumped around the body, valves within the veins are designed to prevent the blood from flowing backwards, but after prolonged periods of standing, these valves can become weak and fail. The veins then expand to accommodate this extra blood, and voila! You have varicose veins. Among the working age population, which is adults under 64, one out of five hospitalizations from varicose veins, are as a result of prolonged standing.
Issues with the heart have also been linked to standing for prolonged periods. Last year the American Journal of Epidemiology published a study, which compared the risk of heart disease among more than 7,000 workers in Ontario, across different types of occupations, for a 12-year period. The study showed that people who primarily stand at work, are twice as likely to develop heart disease as those who mostly sit. This was the case even after taking into consideration additional factors, such as age, gender, education, ethnicity, immigrant status, marital status, health, and the type of work being performed.
Standing for long periods increases the pressure on the joints from head to toe – hips, knees, ankles, and feet. The additional pressure reduces the normal lubrication and cushioning of the joints, which can cause them to tear. This can lead to considerable discomfort, pain, and in rare cases, limbs becoming inadequate to support the person’s body. People who are overweight have the highest risk, and are most likely to experience long-term irreversible issues with their joints, when standing for too long.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that muscle fatigue and disorders account for “33% of all worker injury and illness”. When your muscles are stressed from being kept in one position, such as standing, they quickly start to give in, resulting in swelling and pain. Research shows that the body experiences muscle fatigue when a person stands for 5 hours or more, and the fatigue can continue for more than 30 minutes at the end of the day, even when the muscles are being rested.
This is all fascinating, but what about never being able to sit or lay down? Is it even possible? The Guinness book of records does not have a record for ‘longest time standing,’ as to stand for long periods involves voluntary sleep deprivation and participants can suffer dangerous side effects. But we did come across the incredible and tragic story of Robert Kinghorn who, according to a 2005 article in the British newspaper the Daily Mirror, didn’t sit for 25 years. When Robert was 28 years old, doctors made him decide whether to stand up or sit down for the rest of his life. The reason for this is he has a rare disorder where his muscles become solid bone. It’s called Stoneman’s syndrome, and it affects as few as 45 people in Britain, and an estimated 2,500 around the world.
Although the condition solidifies a victim’s muscles, they can live a long life because their internal organs are not affected. Robert, whose legs are now locked rigid in a standing position, made the brave decision to stand for the rest of his life. Robert maneuvers around his house, by standing on a mobile platform, which is lowered onto his bed at night. He also has a specially adapted vehicle so he can travel.
Robert’s knees are shut tight, his hip joints are locked, and his rib cage has fused together, so though he can breathe, his lungs do not function perfectly. Robert, from Northumberland in the United Kingdom, said: “Losing my independence has been the hardest thing for me to accept and I can get lonely at times. But I can’t see the point in dwelling on the negative. You’ve got to think tomorrow will always be a better day.”
Robert is one brave fellow and the most extreme example we could find of someone standing for a prolonged period of time. What would happen if you stood forever, we’re not entirely sure, but the effects on your health would certainly be catastrophic. You’d also burn a lot more energy, spending all day on your feet. Cornell University has calculated that standing requires 20% more energy than sitting.