Sitting at your desk for eight hours or more per day has been shown to create a variety of health issues, so it came as no surprise that people eventually looked for an alternative workplace arrangement that would help solve some of these problems.
What are the benefits of using a standing desk?
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As the name implies, a standing desk is a desk tall enough to be used while standing up. Also called the active desk or the active workplace, experts are weighing are recommending that people shift to a standing workplace to reduce the health risks associated with the more conventional setup of just sitting down for hours at a time.
The most common complaints associated with being seated for hours is the acute pains that affect the lower and upper back, and the various joints affected by being basically stationary for long periods.
While some people jerry-rig their own standing workstations by trying to raise their keyboards, they soon found out that if you really want a standing workstation, you need a real standing desk that will elevate not just your keyboard and mouse, but also your monitor or display.
A few more changes to your workstation such as using a wireless headset to receive VOIP or online calls and the like will complete the transition from a traditional, seated workstation to a more active standing workstation.
The great thing about this shift is you can transition from a seated setup to a standing one with the help of modern standing desks or desk converters that operate pneumatically or electrically.
The first benefit or advantage that you will enjoy is you will be able to reduce the joint strain (especially around the shoulders and back), and when you want to go back to your previous seated position, you can just adjust the desk converter or standing desk so that everything goes down to their former height.
It is fortunate that companies are now paying closer attention to workers’ needs, and they are now offering options to folks who may want to use standing desks instead of more conventional, single-height desks in the office.
In a 2019 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management, 60% of employers now subsidize the use of standing desks in offices, as it has become one of the fastest rising benefits trend in the corporate setting today.
In 2013, just 13% of employers even considered of providing such an amenity to employees.
Four years later, the figure jumped to 44%, and now more than half of employers include it in their benefits package. We still have a ways to go, but things are definitely looking up for folks who would like to enjoy a more ergonomic office space so they don’t end up with back and joint injuries.
Now if you work from home, there is absolutely nothing wrong with shifting to a standing desk workstation, because the effects of being seated for long periods will be the same whether you are in a conventional office or working from your living room.
According to Fletcher Zumbusch, a physical therapist from the Providence Saint John’s Health Center’s Performance Therapy, located in Santa Monica, California, the root cause of all the problems associated with being seated on a desk is poor posture.
When you are not able to maintain the ideal posture, things are bound to go awry. According to Zumbusch, there is nothing inherently wrong with sitting down in front of a desk – but there might be a problem if you have poor posture, and you’re stuck in the same position for hours at a time.
He continues that the “problem is with the number of hours we spend doing it,”
“Using a standing desk promotes more muscle activity and thus, better circulation compared to a traditional [seated] desk. In addition [to this], spending less time sitting helps keep the hips form becoming tight.”
He explains further that the tightness that people feel around the hips is a precursor to hip mobility issues, which can then produce unnecessary strain and injury to adjacent joints. When there is constant stress on or around the joints, there will be “accelerated development of pain in the joints of the lower back, hip, and knees.” A standing desk, he concurs, can help workers avoid these joint stress issues.
What are the risks of being stuck in a seated position for years?
If you are thinking about sticking it out with being seated for hours a day, then yes, the answer is that there are real medical risks associated with the more conventional setup. Among the potential problems that you might encounter later on are:
– There is a risk of misalignment of the spine and the joints, which can pave the way for more serious spinal issues down the line.
– Generalized joint pain as the body is constantly forced into postures that are not healthy for the joints in general.
– There is also a risk factor that affects the overall circulation in the body. Due to poor posture, the heart may find it difficult to pump blood to the extremities, which can then trigger a chain of events that might conclude in deep vein thrombosis or potentially fatal venous blockages. Blood clots that emerge as a result of poor circulation can actually travel to other parts of the body (like the heart and lungs) and cause strokes.
– The most common complaint of people stuck in a seated position is generalized physical fatigue – that feeling that you are already tired despite being in the office for only a few hours. This fatigue is directly associated with poor working posture.
– Around the head region, it is possible to develop spontaneous headaches, migraines, and jaw pain. These can be triggered by a variety of events, but the most common triggers are spinal misalignment, tight and knotted muscles, and general poor posture.
– Unfortunately, there has also been a correlation between sexual function and poor workplace posture. Pinched nerves and spinal issues can all affect sexual function, and these are all within the realm of possibility when your body has already taken a beating from years of being slouched over a desk.
Should you use accessories like standing desk balance boards?
Accessories like standing desk bikes and standing desk balance boards might make your workstations more interesting, but they’re not an absolute necessity, so purchase only if you really feel that you need any of them.
What’s the right standing desk posture?
While there are no hard and fast rules about the right posture while working on a standing desk, we’ve prepared a few guidelines that might help you transition from your old seated setup to a more active and dynamic standing workstation.
1. Ask for professional help as much as possible
Whether it’s from a physical therapist or a physician, it is important to first consult with a professional when shifting from a seated setup to a standing setup.
The consultation doesn’t have to be too extensive – you just need a professional to look at how your body is doing so you can purchase the right type of standing desk or desk converter to start improving your posture while working.
According to Zumbush, a standing desk setup that has not been set up properly can actually cause problems of its own. A professional who has a background in ergonomics can guide you in the transition, as well as licensed physical therapists.
2. Don’t make a sudden transition from being seated all day to standing all day
It may sound tempting to just ‘solve’ all your problems by just throwing yourself at the standing desk mania in 24 hours. But what if we tell you that this can actually cause more problems?
You see, your body has been used to being seated for hours all these years, and despite the damage it has gotten all these years, it’s used to being seated. If your goal is to reduce pain and numbness, then shifting to 100% standing might backfire on you.
What you can do to ensure that your body has enough time to adapt to what you want to transition to is to take it slowly, and allow your body to get used to the standing workstation slowly.
Start with ten to twenty minutes per day, before lengthening the period that you are working while standing up. Eventually, you can ‘split’ your schedule evenly into two. You can spend four hours seated, and then four hours standing up.
3. Always listen to what your body is telling you.
According to Zumbusch, standing workstations are not magic, so you must pace your expectations accordingly. We know that it can be frustrating in the beginning when the shift seems to be producing nothing for your pain and bad posture, but just give it time.
It takes some time to reverse and resolve spinal and joint issues created by years of being seated with poor posture. Zumbusch reminds us: “Don’t be unrealistic and expect to feel amazing immediately.
Listen to your body and if you continue to feel discomfort or pain, don’t be afraid to ask for outside help, like an ergonomics professional or someone who is licensed in physical therapy.” He continues that the setup that you may have inadvertently created may not be set up right or you may be “spending too much time standing right away without transitioning [properly] into it.”
4. Get into a more balanced groove
As we’ve mentioned earlier, shifting too quickly from a seated position to a standing one can cause more problems than it solves. According to experts, too much of anything can be a problem, so it would be best to get into a more balanced groove if you want to reap the benefits of having a standing workstation.
According to Alan Hedge, a profession from the department of design and environment analysis at the Cornell University, the goal would be to introduce the right changes to how you do things, so you can enjoy the health benefits.
He is actually against overdoing anything: “If what you are doing is replacing sitting with standing, you are not actually doing your body any favors. In fact, you are introducing a whole variety of new risk factors.”
Furthermore, Hedge believes that “If you go from sitting to standing and vice versa frequently throughout the day… That complete eradicates any of the supposed risk factors associated with sitting, or indeed, with standing.”
While there are some risk factors associated with prolonged standing, these can be offset by using a more balanced ratio of sitting, standing, and moving, so you can avoid problems like a compressed spine, varicose veins, venous issues (blockages) and the like.
According to one study from the American Journal of Epidemiology, the best results (health-wise) can actually be derived through the use of “combinations of sitting and standing, and these are likely to have beneficial cardiovascular health benefits.”
What about standing desk exercises?
In addition to balancing how much you move throughout the day, you can definitely perform some standing desk exercises, like stretches to help improve your circulation and keep your muscles in top condition. Hedge himself believes that using the 20:8:2 ratio is just perfect for recovering from years and years of being stuck in a seated position in the office. What does this ratio mean, anyway?
20:8:2 means you sit down for 20 minutes, stand up for eight, and perform some standing desk exercises or gentle movements for two. If you do not like performing static exercises, you can use the extra two minutes to walk around. The point is to get the blood circulating and to exercise those muscles and joints, so they’re not frozen all the time. This ratio will help decompress your spine and it will likely help you burn calories, too.
How long do people normally stick to a sitting-standing routine in the office?
Unfortunately, in terms of maintaining the routine, a lot of people have difficulty maintaining the ratio. Statistics show that without the correct intervention, only one-third of those who have tried the sit-stand routine actually maintain it for more than a month.
In a study from the peer-reviewed journal Applied Ergonomics, it was found that digital prompts can actually pave the way for a healthier workplace as these can help sustain the transition: “People who receive computer prompts reminding users when to stand and when to sit are more likely to maintain the use of standing desks.
They were more active and transitioned between sitting and standing more frequently throughout the day than their counterparts who did not receive prompts.”
What is even more enlightening with the same study was that the participants reported actual, positive changes with their bodies when they continued using the sit-stand ratio: “The participants who received reminders cited a decrease in body discomfort, increase in mental focus, and a general increase in productivity.”
Standing Desk Vs. Sitting At Your Desk: The Showdown
What does the current science have to tell us about standing desks or active workstations? What are the current debates, and what do doctors and scientists have to say about shifting to standing desks?
This is our comprehensive showdown of scientific and medical literature associated with active workstations. Time to decide if the benefits of an active workstation are for you or not!
1. Shifting to a standing desk means calories burned.
In a combined analysis of 44 studies by the peer-reviewed scientific journal Circulation, it has been found that standing for at least six hours a day (combined, switching from a seated position to standing) can burn more calories than just staying put.
Additionally, standing up provides the opportunity for more movement throughout the day, which might be why many ergonomics experts like the idea of switching between sitting and standing precisely because you can engage in some exercise in between and all that extra movement throughout the day can definitely help you burn more fat than when you are just largely stationary.
Another great benefit related to “the switch” is standing up more frequently keeps you more flexible and limber, and this alone can reduce the risk of painful joints and stiff or frozen muscles.
2. Reduce pressure on your disks and organs.
According to Stanford University Director of PM& R Sports Medicine, Michael Fredericson, MD, FACSM, there is plenty of proof that sitting for long periods of time can directly damage your disks, causing undue compression, which can then translate to lower back pain. Having chronic or acute back pain can affect your overall fitness levels, as well as your ability to just work without pain in the office.
Over time, the pain is going to become debilitating, especially when you are already in your late thirties or older. According to Fredericson, long periods of sitting down can also result in overall poor health. There is definitely causation between how you spend most of your day and your health.
The correlation is based on sound evidence: those who are not as active at all tend to have more visceral fat (or the fat that sticks close to the organs), and the same people tend to have poorer heart and lung health, too.
All these conditions, combined with the continually rising risk factors due to the same thing happening over and over again to the body will spell problems definitely, for people who do not change their lifestyle or at least modify their working stations.
3. Reduce your risk of degenerative diseases like cancer and heart disease.
According to James Levine, an endocrinologist, “The way we live now is to sit all day, occasionally punctuated by a walk from the parking lot to the office. The default has become to sit.
We need the default to be standing.” If you think about it, this particular suggestion seems to be aligned with what we know so far about shifting to standing tables: that we need to start moving even if the office setting doesn’t really encouraging moving about.
According to other studies, the average office worker spends a hefty six hours being in a fixed, seated position per day.
Being this stationary has been associated with a wide range of health issues, including type 2 adult onset diabetes and different kinds of cancer.
It may sound like a tall order to begin moving, but if you want to avoid cancer, the effort begins with being less sedentary and being more active. And if you are in the office for most of the day, you need to take control of your fitness even when you are at work, right?
If you need more proof that sitting can actually contribute to cancer, another 2011 study states that as many as 49,000 cases of breast cancer may have been inadvertently caused by prolonged sitting. The same can be said of a staggering 43,000 cases of colon cancer in the United States, annually.
It is also unfortunate to note that prolonged sitting has also been associated with other fatal forms of cancer in both men and women, including 37,200 cases of lung cancer, 30,600 cases of prostate cancer, 12,000 cases of endometrial cancer, and 1,800 cases of ovarian cancer.
As you can see from the statistics, it is not possible to rule out the role of prolonged sitting in both men and women because many of these cancers are specific to both men and women.
For example, while lung cancer may occur in men and women, ovarian cancer and breast cancer occur in women specifically. The message here is quite clear: that there is a huge need for men and women to start changing their lifestyles so they can start being healthier and to reduce their risk of encountering these fatal diseases.
The writing is on the wall with so much scientific evidence piling up against just sitting, as opposed to standing up and moving more frequently throughout the day. It has also been identified by a 2010 Australian study that for every hour of sitting every day, the risk of dying prematurely from one or two causes related to a sedentary lifestyle increases by as much as 11%.
As we have said before, it is imperative that you shift gradually to a more active lifestyle inside the office and out of it, so you do not shock your body. It’s important that the body is eased to its new movement pattern so you can reap the benefits of the change completely.
4. Start taking control of your weight and weight loss efforts.
In one study that delved into the age old question of why some people gained weight while others didn’t it was found that participants who didn’t gain weight at all were on average standing up about 2.5 to 3 hours per day more than those who were more or less sedentary or unmoving.
One can easily imagine why the weight was piling on with those who don’t move about: without movement, their physical fitness levels were falling every day, causing their metabolisms to slow down and eventually dwindle. According to Levine, “during all of our days, there are opportunities to move around substantially more.”
He also believes that there are ‘mundane opportunities’ for movement such as walking to a colleague’s office instead of shooting an email or instant message, or taking the stairs instead of riding the elevator. What the experts are definitely pointing to these days is people need to stand more and do more with their bodies because the human body was designed to move.
Does this all tie up perfectly with the use of more active workspaces and standing desks? One hundred percent. Standing desks provide people the opportunity to break the cycle of being sedentary for so long and when you are standing you are also more motivated to move about. Research shows that people need to start taking advantage of the little opportunities to move, and not doing so can directly increase the risk of developing conditions like diabetes and obesity.
To make your weight loss efforts more well-rounded, you also need to make sure that you are more actively throughout the day, and not just when you are able to hit the gym, which as we know, doesn’t happen on a daily basis unless you are very dedicated to working out.
Additional studies show that there is so much more to sitting around all day than meets the eye. It appears that on the cellular level, the body is taking some damage too. It turns out that when you are more sedentary it is possible that the body’s own cells become less responsive to insulin, which is essential for the regulation of glucose in the body. Another possibility is the body is releasing reduced levels of lipoprotein lipase, which is important for normal metabolism.
Levine has some final recommendations to ensure that you are getting the best of your shift to a more active workstation: “Step one is to get up. Step two is learn to get up more often. Step three is once you’re up, move. And what we have discovered is that once you are up, to do tend to move.”
5. Target metabolic syndrome and associated disorders early.
It is unfortunate for many of us that something as simple as sitting could actually cause so much harm that even our metabolisms are impacted. An explanation is definitely underway here. When we talk about metabolism, we are not just talking about how fast you can burn calories.
We’re talking about the overall capacity of the body to utilize energy, harness it for biochemical processes, and more. So when something alters a person’s metabolism, a lot of organs are damaged in the process. Of course, the damage occurs over a period of time, and the symptoms are usually slow in coming. But that’s precisely the point of wanting to solve the problem earlier: that if you are more or less interested in want to safeguard your health, you perform the interventions needed early, before the major symptoms of metabolic disorders begin to show.
The science definitely proves many of our fears about sedentary lifestyles. A 2008 study showed that people who were stationary for longer periods and just sat rather than stood or moved are less responsive to the natural metabolic processes of the body such as the release of insulin, which translates to poorer absorption of glucose in the bloodstream, and this will cause problems in how the body utilizes energy in the first place.
Another 2013 study reveals that individuals who already have a risk for developing adult onset diabetes or type 2 diabetes readily increase the said risk factor by sitting most of the time.
The solution to the problem is not just standing up, though this is an excellent first step, but getting vigorous exercise regularly. Again, the more we move away from being sedentary, the better our chances of being more active throughout the day.
6. Take better care of your heart and entire cardiovascular system.
In our day and age when there is just so much repeated stress from work and life that doesn’t just go away, it’s enlightening to know that just moving more can do so much good for the heart.
On the flipside, if you don’t get as much movement going, you get the opposite: higher risk for heart disease and associated problems, such as developing debilitating chest pains and of course, the most problematic of all events – heart attacks.
Cardiovascular research has shown that people who sit for more than two hours at a time per day develop a devastating 125% higher risk for developing heart problems than those who don’t.
The prognosis is that much grimmer for individuals who sit for five hours or more per day and do not get that much physical exercise at all, even after work. It has been discovered that historically speaking, 34% of chronic sitters were more likely to die of heart failure than those who were more active.