Many studies have shown that sitting for long periods leads directly to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and early death.
Why the interest in standing desks?
Sitting for long periods causes your central nervous system to slow down leading to fatigue, weakened muscles, stiff joints, a reduction in your body’s ability to burn fat and an increase blood sugar and fat levels. Many studies have shown that sitting for long periods leads directly to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers and early death.
Australian researchers tracked 8,800 people for around six years, discovering that for each hour of TV viewing, the risk of death due to cardiovascular disease increased by 18%. Watching four or more hours daily increased that risk 80% above those who watched fewer than two hours per day.
– Prof David Dunstan, from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Victoria, Australia
A similar Canadian study of about 17,000 adults found that prolonged sitting of any kind was associated with increased health risks even among those who are physically fit, suggesting that sitting for long periods may counteract some of the health benefits of regular exercise.
– Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, May 2009
Another report in 1953 found that bus drivers were twice as likely to die of heart attacks as conductors on the same buses, who stood during their shifts.
– London Transport Workers Study, 1953
What are the potential solutions?
Replace your office chair with an exercise ball
The benefits of this seem to be marginal, and disbenefits (like falling off sideways when reaching for something) are also apparent
Use a “standing desk”
While it helps not to sit down, standing still needs to be interspersed with other activities
Use a “walking desk” – standing desk with treadmill
Might be good for you, but work can suffer as a result
Make sure that your hairdryer or television only works if you’re pedaling on your exercise bike
I think we’ll all agree this is impractical at best
The benefits of standing over sitting
Standing rather than sitting improves posture (if your desk setup is correct), burns more calories, increases metabolism and can actually make you feel less tired if done regularly meaning you can stand & walk for longer week by week. Some even suggest it makes you more creative, as you change your position more regularly
There are a number of famous standing desk users including Sir Winston Churchill (pictured above), Ernest Hemingway, Leonardo Da Vinci, Virginia Woolf, Thomas Jefferson and Charles Dickens. If you stand, you’re in good company!
The drawbacks of standing
You are likely to have initial feelings of tiredness & fatigue and your legs or lower back can hurt if standing for too long or incorrectly. Standing for long periods can also increase the possibility varicose veins. On a practical front, the costs of moveable standing desks are prohibitive, and you’ll also need a high level chair if the desk isn’t moveable. There’s also the potential that you’ll feel somewhat “on show” if you’re the only person in the office doing it.
As with taking up any activity, it’s likely that you will feel worse before you feel better, but the eventual benefits far outweigh the disbenefits.
Ideas to get you started
Before you plunge straight in to buying a top of the range standing desk, you can see what effect standing and moving more regularly might have on your day. The obvious way to start is to make sure you stand up when taking a break or answering the phone. If your colleagues will go for it, have standing meetings.
You can also experiment with a temporary standing desk, by making yourself a cheaper version to see how it feels.
The ideal way to set your desk up
As with a seated desk, your eyes should be at the height of the top of screen, and the desk should be slightly below elbow height, with your forearms horizontal. Wear comfortable shoes and ideally get an anti-fatigue mat or piece of carpet so that your feet are not put under undue pressure.
When starting out, alternate standing and sitting so that you don’t wear yourself out.
Standing in a static position is not the solution, moving is. However, a standing desk does encourage you to move and doing something about the problem is better than doing nothing.
Although in my opinion the cost of a moveable desk is currently prohibitive, a static desk with a high operators chair is a good start to get you up and moving – but don’t stop there.