woman doing work at a standing desk
Health & Wellness

Do You Need A Standing Desk?

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Standing desks are trending in popularity over the past few years as people look for new ways to increase activity and decrease prolonged sitting adverse effects. 

In 2020, more things than ever have moved online. While this is convenient, it also means a ton more sitting glued to technology. 

But how do you know if a standing desk is right for you? 

You’ve probably heard this catchphrase circulating: “Sitting is the new smoking.”

That seems dramatic. 

Let’s unpack this phrase a little more. As usual, the devil’s in the details, so keep reading. 

Disclaimer: Always seek proper instruction before initiating an exercise program. Not everything is great for everyone! Consult with your qualified health care practitioners for an exercise program tailored to your needs. Stay healthy and injury-free! Read the full disclaimer.

HEALTH RISKS OF PROLONGED SITTING

Humans were made to move. Everything from heart function to digestion requires movement and circulation to work optimally. Stagnant is no good. 

Too much sitting has been linked with many health issues such as: 

  • Muscle weakness
  • Pain and stiffness
  • Weight gain
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Adverse effects on mental health
  • Higher risk of DVTs 

Sitting is not inherently bad, rather it’s how much time is spent sitting over the course of every day. Of course, these risks are worse if you lead a sedentary life in general and make unhealthy choices. 

Context matters. 

There’s a difference between sitting for work and sitting all day every day with no attempts to be active. 

Still, people are on the hunt to find ways to improve their health. 

ARE STANDING DESKS THE ANSWER?

Standing desks (aka stand up desk or sit-stand desk) are becoming more popular in our effort to decrease sedentary behavior, yet still manage to chain ourselves to a desk. 

There are pros and cons to any workstation set up. 

Let’s take a look at both sides of the equation to help you decide if a standing desk is right for you. 

BENEFITS OF STANDING DESKS

Research on standing desks is still in its early stages. 

So far, it’s thought that standing desks may lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Using a standing desk may help reduce low back pain (a primary complaint of prolonged sitting) and boost mood/productivity. 

Time will tell. 

When standing, you’re also able to weight shift and pace around. If you like to fidget, a standing desk might be up your alley. 

DO STANDING DESKS BURN MORE CALORIES?

Some claims are circulating that standing burns more calories. 

While no one argues with the promise of “burning more calories,” don’t be tricked into the idea that by simply standing, you’re getting exercise.

Creasy et al. Compared energy expenditure with sitting, standing, and walking. 

The study found that substituting periods of walking significantly increased energy expenditure. Replacing standing for sitting had little to no effect. 

The bottom line, you’ll burn more calories walking to the bathroom. 

Unless you’re on a treadmill standing desk, but this is probably best suited for those who consider themselves experts at walking and chewing gum at the same time. 

DISADVANTAGES OF STANDING DESKS

Simply “standing” is not exercise, and prolonged standing can take its toll on your health too. 

Ask anyone who’s job requires constant standing. All they want to do at the end of the day is sit down!

Too much standing can cause:

  • Sore feet/ankles
  • Swelling
  • Varicose veins/stress on circulation
  • Low back pain
  • Muscle fatigue

Standing still for more than 4 hours at a time is likely to increase these risks. 

There also isn’t a lot of scientific proof at this time. It’s assumed that there are benefits to standing because you’re “not sitting.” 

Standing desks can be pricey, but worth it if you decide this option works well for you. 

Standing desks also don’t help things like workload stress, eye strain, or toxic environments, which play a role in your overall health and wellbeing. 

If you have any injuries or medical conditions that affect your ability to stand for long periods, then a standing desk is not for you. 

A standing desk alone is not going to fix an unhealthy lifestyle. 

THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

Moderation wins again. 

The best option is to have a way to move through sitting and standing at regular intervals every hour. 

Quickly and easily shifting between standing and sitting postures is a convenient option to ease aches and pains and decrease the number of hours spent sitting each day. 

Here’s an affordable desktop option that’s great for a home office standing solution.

Stand Desk Inc. also has adjustable standing desks with on-trend wood tops to match your decor.

HOW LONG SHOULD YOU BE STANDING?

As we’ve covered, too much standing comes with its own problems. 

The recommended ratio of standing to sitting should be between 1:1 and 3:1. 

Ideally, you should aim to stand at least as much as you sit, if not more. 

STANDING DESK ERGONOMICS

It’s still possible to still have poor ergonomics at a standing desk. 

The standing desk has to be adjusted to you to avoid postural muscle strain. This might be a problem at a shared workstation if you’re very tall or very short. Do what you can to adjust monitor angles and the height of the desk if possible. 

If you work on a laptop, you’re still at a disadvantage by needing to always look down. Good ergonomic setups for standing desks are better achieved with a desktop monitor adjusted for height. 

Check out this article from Mayo Clinic for optimal set up of your standing desk. 

STANDING DESKS & ANTI-FATIGUE MATS

One of the best accessories for a standing desk is an anti-fatigue mat.

Anti-fatigue mats are slightly squishy and encourage weight shifting and movement to aid blood and fluid return. 

These specialized surfaces can help reduce feelings of pain and tiredness in the legs for prolonged standing. 

Check out some of these other workstation accessories to improve your ergonomics and make desk life a little more manageable.

TIPS TO STAY ACTIVE AT A DESK JOB

Whether you’re standing or sitting, taking breaks has both physical and mental benefits.

Here are some ideas to give your mind and body a break during the workday. 

SET A TIMER

Set a timer to remind you to get up every 30-45 min. Not only is this a much needed physical break, but a mental break as well. 

Get a change of scenery even if it’s looking out the window. This helps with other issues like eye strain. 

WEAR A SMARTWATCH OR FITNESS TRACKER

Many fitness trackers and smartwatches have built-in functions to remind you to stand, which you can set to your personal frequency. 

Get a tap on the wrist when it’s time and get up!

Read The Ultimate Guide to Fitness Trackers for all the details and science behind fitness watches to help you decide which is right for you. 

TRY A THERABALL

You would not want to sit on this all day long, but sitting on a ball intermittently is another way to weave some movement into your day.

It might also wake you up if your work is a real snooze. 

Check out this office theraball chair. 

KEEP A WATER BOTTLE NEAR

Hydration is vital for health.

Keep a water bottle near you and stay hydrated. Not only will you need to refill the bottle periodically, but you’ll also likely need to take more bathroom breaks, which is another way to get you up and moving. 

PLAN LUNCHTIME WALKS

Lunchtime walks are a great stress reliever and a way to break free from your work. 

Walking at a moderate pace counts toward your movement goals for the week to maintain an active lifestyle.

CLIMB STAIRS

If your work has stairs, weave a few flights in even if you don’t need to. 

Climbing stairs is a great way to get your heart rate up quickly and boost your activity. 

Have a goal like climb ten flights by the end of the day. 

TRY CHAIR YOGA POSES

Take your practice off the mat. Here are three chair yoga poses to do at your desk. 

(Those super cool striped leggings are K-Deer, for my fashionistas who just need to know! – and yes, you should definitely check them out!)

SEATED TWIST

woman seated in a chair demonstrating a seated spinal twist stretch
Copyright Maura Blackstone
HOW TO PERFORM
  • Sit upright in your chair
  • Rotate as far as you can comfortably to one side and take 3-5 deep breaths
  • Repeat on the opposite side

SEATED PIGEON (SEATED FIGURE 4 STRETCH)

woman in a chair demonstrating a seated pigeon figure 4 stretch
Copyright Maura Blackstone
HOW TO PERFORM
  • Cross one ankle over the opposite knee
  • Keep the foot flexed to protect the knee joint
  • Lean your chest forward to deepen the stretch
  • Hold for 20-30 seconds taking slow deep breaths

SEATED THORACIC EXTENSION

woman seated in a chair demonstrating throacic extension stretching
Copyright Maura Blackstone
HOW TO PERFORM
  • Clasp your hands behind your head
  • Think of pulling yourself up and arching the upper back simultaneously; let the head follow where it’s comfortable.
  • Return to neutral
  • Repeat 5-10 times

FOAM ROLLING

Foam roller exercises are another way to ease pain from poor posture at your desk. 

Read The Best 7 Foam Roller Exercises To Combat Poor Desk Posture for a full how-to of the best areas for office workers to foam roll.

Grab an extra foam roller to keep by your desk. 

GET REGULAR EXERCISE 

The problem isn’t sitting. It’s leading a sedentary lifestyle. 

For overall health benefits, aim for at least 150 min of moderate aerobic activity each week. 

Regular exercise is the closest thing to magic to reduce all-cause mortality. And no, standing at your desk does not count toward this goal. #sorrynotsorry

Read 4 Secrets to a Well-Rounded Fitness Routine to learn how to build a program for overall health benefits. 

DO YOU NEED A STANDING DESK? 

The best workstation setup is going to be the one that works for you. 

Both too much standing and too much sitting come with their respective risks, especially when coupled with poor health choices. Standing desks will not fix an unhealthy lifestyle. 

Standing desks offer a unique new way to tackle the same old job. If it works for you, go for it! The best type of standing desk offers the option to switch between sitting and standing throughout the day for comfort. 

If you’re a generally active person and make efforts to take breaks and move, sitting for work shouldn’t be a problem. 

If a standing desk is not in your budget (or not on offer from your employer), there’s still plenty of ways to mitigate the health risks of too much sitting. 

Whichever you choose, just remember to move more! 

(And no, sitting is not the new smoking – in case you didn’t get the memo!) 

featured image credit: depositphotos.com

References

Owen N, Healy GN, Matthews CE, Dunstan DW. Too much sitting: the population health science of sedentary behavior. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2010;38(3):105-113. doi:10.1097/JES.0b013e3181e373a2

Biddle SJ, Bennie JA, Bauman AE, et al. Too much sitting and all-cause mortality: is there a causal link?. BMC Public Health. 2016;16:635. Published 2016 Jul 26. doi:10.1186/s12889-016-3307-3

Finch LE, Tomiyama AJ, Ward A. Taking a Stand: The Effects of Standing Desks on Task Performance and Engagement. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017;14(8):939. Published 2017 Aug 21. doi:10.3390/ijerph14080939

Creasy SA, Rogers RJ, Byard TD, Kowalsky RJ, Jakicic JM. Energy Expenditure During Acute Periods of Sitting, Standing, and Walking. J Phys Act Health. 2016 Jun;13(6):573-8. doi: 10.1123/jpah.2015-0419. Epub 2015 Dec 21. PMID: 26693809.

Møller SV, Hannerz H, Hansen AM, Burr H, Holtermann A. Multi-wave cohort study of sedentary work and risk of ischemic heart disease. Scand J Work Environ Health. 2016 Jan;42(1):43-51. doi: 10.5271/sjweh.3540. Epub 2015 Dec 9. PMID: 26649851.

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