Recent research (if 2013 can still be considered recent), has outlined the health dangers associated with sedentary behavior, particularly in the workplace. The findings of these studies — which have lead people in the health industry to equate sitting to smoking — have left human resource directors, ergonomic specialists, and office furniture designers scrambling for solutions. One such solution has been standing desks.
The implementation of standing desks has become increasingly prevalent over the short time since the anti-sitting literature first hit the scene. If you work in a large or small office space, you either have one of these things, or know someone in your building who does, and with good cause!
Research has indicated that using these desks can have a positive impact on people who suffer from chronic low back pain, may lead to increased productivity in the workplace, and even improve behavior and mood of children when used in schools.
There is a bit of a problem with all of these findings though. The research they are based on is very preliminary, and has been criticized for being using poor quality methods. That being said, I don’t believe that it is worth throwing the baby out with the bath water all together when it comes to using one of these desks.
What I do want to do is take some time to outline my recommendations for you on how to use one of these desks — which I think you should. The first thing to consider is some of the risks of over using a standing desk.
Standing for extended periods of time has been linked to increased risk for varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis, and heart problems as your heart has to work harder against gravity to pump blood back from your lower extremities. Over time standing for too long can also lead to compression of the spine and lower extremities, which can contribute to back and leg pain. This is particularly true if you have poor posture!
These risks can be mitigated fairly easily by practicing some moderation. The current recommendation — which has yet to be supported by research, so caveat emptor — is to break your sitting, standing, and moving up throughout the day. The most common ratio you are likely to come across in regards to this guideline is 20 minutes of sitting with support, 8 minutes of standing, and 2 minutes of stretching or moving in any given half hour.
Another thing that you can do with regards to the back and leg pain is to get a soft mat to stand on, as the hard concrete floors in most office buildings can wear your body down over time.
When picking to sit or stand it is also apparently important to consider the type of task that you are performing. Some articles I have read indicate that our brains perform better on certain tasks which require more concentration when sitting down. So if you have something that requires you to get in the zone, you may need to have a seat, but you’ll still want to break those sessions up (absolutely no longer than 90 minutes) with intermittent bouts of movement.
One of the last benefits of standing versus sitting that you may come across is that it burns more calories than sitting, which could help you lose weight. While this seems to be true — standing burns ~3.3Kcals/min and sitting burns ~2.6Kcals/min — standing also requires more work for you body, which can lead to early onset fatigue throughout your day if you aren’t careful.
The bottom line, which is a point that is easily overlooked, is that movement throughout the day is what is most important. Whether sitting or standing, the best thing you can do for yourself is to change positions frequently. Our bodies were not designed to stay in static postures — regardless of their verticality — for prolonged periods.
If you’ve been considering adding one of these desks to your office space I would highly encourage you to do so — I will even write your HR manager a letter of necessity for you. But! If you go full bore and try to stand all day instead of sitting, then I am fairly confident that you are not going to be happy with your new set up.
Start cheap. Someone engineered a $22 IKEA standing workstation solution which you can read more about here. I would just make sure that whatever set up you go with that the top of your monitor ends up at eye height, and that the key board is at or slightly below elbow height.
If you have any other questions, make sure to email me, or ask at your next appointment!