A standing desk can help combat the dangerous health consequences of too much sitting. Check out this new ergonomic workplace solution.
Regular exercise and a healthy diet and lifestyle may not be enough to offset the negative effects of a sedentary job. Studies show that sitting at a desk all day may shave off up to seven quality years from our lives. Thankfully, standing desks offer a practical and easy solution.
As with other things that are a matter of degree, the problem is not sitting—it’s sitting too much. We used to be a lot more active. Fewer than 100 years ago, office workers such as clerks, accountants and managers often worked standing. It’s even rumoured that Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemingway stood while they worked.
Today, many of us sit for at least six to eight hours a day at work. And if you are considered an even more diligent worker, you may be putting in even more hours in a chair.
In a recent Western Australian study by researchers at Curtin University, sedentary time accounted for 81.8 per cent of work hours, and uninterrupted sitting was found to be a risk factor for poor health, regardless of the total amount of time spent sitting.
Risks of excess sitting
In 2012, the largest analysis of the topic to date (18 studies, which included almost 800,000 people) found that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes. The study, published in Diabetologica, was the first to look at sedentary behaviour beyond watching television.
The results were sobering. The study showed that, comparing those who were sedentary the most with those who were sedentary the least, excess sitting was associated with a 112 per cent increase in diabetes, a 147 per cent increase in the risk of heart events and a 90 per cent increase in the risk of cardiovascular mortality.
A particularly strong link was made between sitting and increased risk of diabetes. Skeletal muscle is the largest insulin-sensitive part of the body, and sitting for extended periods of time can lead to insulin resistance in this large muscle group, due to its inactivity.
Desks of the future
There is good news. Health and wellness initiatives in the workplace are becoming a priority as employers realise that a healthy workforce is a productive workforce. Some companies now offer workstations that allow office workers to stand or even walk at a slow pace while they work. It’s no longer innovative technology companies that are providing standing desks to their staff, and they are even starting to pop up in classrooms.
As they hit the mainstream, standing desks may become a large part of the solution to the risks of sedentary jobs.
Standing burns more kilojoules
Unlike sitting, where the large muscle groups are immobile for long periods of time, standing requires an increase in muscle activity, and research shows that it also burns more kilojoules. In a study by the American Heart Association, researchers showed that obese people are seated for 2.5 hours per day more than their thinner sedentary counterparts.
Over a lifetime, those hours add up. One small study that was directed at young adults showed that sitting burns about 4 kilojoules per minute, while standing burns about 6 kilojoules. Although this difference may seem very small, the students would burn an extra 477 kilojoules per day by using a standing desk at school. The study showed that a student’s extra weight loss could amount to almost 3 kilograms a year.
Standing desks not only promote a healthier metabolism, but may also improve problems with balance and posture. A small study done by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Take-a-Stand Project showed that the use of a standing desk in a corporate environment reduced upper back pain and neck pain and improved mood in users.
So far, studies have focused on kilojoules burned and posture, but users of standing desks say they also notice benefits such as better focus and concentration, higher energy levels, more productivity and even less stress. Of course, more research is needed.
How to use a standing desk
It’s important to remember that it is not ideal to stand all day. This may not be healthy or practical. People naturally want to sit at times or stand at times.
Some prefer to stand and work all morning when they are at their freshest and then sit in the afternoon. Ergonomists refer to “postural rotation,” which, in the case of workplace ergonomics, means sitting for a while, standing for a while, and repeating this throughout the day. Using a standing desk doesn’t mean standing for eight to 10 hours a day. Ideally, the desk should be adjustable so the user has the option to sit.
There are many options when choosing a standing desk. The marketplace is large and there is something for every budget and need. Desks can range from under $100 to thousands of dollars. Some people even make their own.
The most important things to remember when choosing a desk are that the screen height is just slightly below eye level and your arms are at a 90-degree angle to the desk. It’s also important to use an antifatigue mat; these are designed to reduce foot weariness due to standing and are often recommended for increased occupational health and safety.
Ease into using a standing desk. Don’t try to stand for your entire work day; start by standing for an hour or stand in intervals, taking sitting breaks in between. Remember, it’s not sitting that is so unhealthy; it’s the amount of time spent sitting.
Tips for using standing desks
- Make sure your arms are 90 degrees to the desk; screen must be slightly below eye level.
- Ease into it—don’t try to stand for your entire work day.
- Wear supportive shoes.
- Stand on an antifatigue mat.
- Do your research and shop around for the best desk to suit your individual needs.