Sitting down at a desk has become an everyday occurrence for many of us. You might even be doing so for eight hours or more most days, especially if you’re an office worker.
That level of inactivity has long been recognized as unhealthy. Concern has reached new heights these days – to the extent that sitting is sometimes seen as being as dangerous as smoking. Scary, right?
Standing desks seem like a fantastic alternative. They're precisely what the name suggests, desks that are taller so that you can work standing up, rather than sitting down.
You don’t even need to source a tall desk either. Plenty of companies sell stands to bring your monitors, keyboard, laptop, and anything else to the desired height.
What about it, then? Are standing desks good for you? Do they actually improve your health or are they simply a fad?
Are Standing Desks Good For Your Health?
- How Long Should You Stand At A Standing Desk?
- Benefits Of Standing Desks
- Problems With Standing Desks
- Types Of Standing Desks
- What About Standing Desks?
- How To Use A Standing Desk Well
- Is A Standing Desk Essential?
- Final Thoughts
How Long Should You Stand At A Standing Desk?
Before we get into the health effects of standing desks, let’s talk a little about the principle.
For one thing, standing desks aren’t really an alternative to traditional desks. They’re better seen as an addition to your desk.
In particular, you’ll see the most benefits by having periods of sitting and periods of standing. Doing so gives you the most benefits from each approach, while reducing the risk of harm.
Recommendations for the balance vary. Some experts suggest standing for 15 to 30 minutes for every hour you sit, while others suggest a ratio of 2:1 of sitting to standing is better, which means roughly an hour of standing for every two hours of sitting.
Switching positions every half an hour or an hour seems to be the most powerful approach.
However, research into this field is still in its early stages, the ideal approaches aren’t fully understood. Because of this, it’s essential to listen to your body. Try experimenting with different durations of sitting and standing, to see what works the best for you.
Benefits Of Standing Desks
May Help With Weight Loss
Did you know that you burn more calories while you’re standing than sitting? The difference is pretty small, but it’s there. When you add up all the hours that you’re standing rather than sitting, those extra calories start to matter.
That’s not all.
Moving around your office becomes much easier when you’re standing up anyway. Let’s face it, once you’re sitting down, it’s easy to stay sitting and only move when you need to. If you’re standing instead, you might regularly take a few steps while thinking or even walk around the room.
Even just shifting your weight from one foot to the other is more movement than you’d get by staying put in your chair.
Puts Our Bodies In A Different Position
When we’re sitting all day, every day, our bodies adjust to that position. Basically, our bodies adapt to whatever we’re doing. When we’re doing the same thing most of the time, our bodies adapt to that a little bit too well.
Standing desks work well, as they put your body in a completely different position. And, if you’re regularly switching between sitting and standing, your body has fewer chances to settle.
May Help With Back Pain
For some people, standing desks are powerful for relieving back pain, as they get you upright and release pressure from your neck and back. This effect is strongest if you’re regularly moving as well.
That said, the effect will partly depend on the cause of your back pain. If you have a serious underlying problem, like scoliosis, standing instead of sitting won’t fix anything. You’ll need to look for a medical intervention instead.
However, this is an area to be careful with, as standing desks sometimes have the opposite effect instead.
Sitting Can Cause Health Problems
Spending too much time seated is linked to all types of problems, including increased risk for obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Part of the problem is that the lower part of your body is barely moving. This lack of movement can lead to aches and pains, along with decreased circulation.
You’ve probably noticed issues yourself, as spending most of the day sitting at your desk never feels good. Your body often aches and you may feel exhausted, even though you’ve barely been moving.
A standing desk decreases the amount of time you’re sitting per day, which should protect you from some of these issues. You’re still relatively static, but it’s much easier to move your body around while you’re standing compared to when you’re sitting.
May Promote Health In Other Ways
Some research suggests that standing desks might help your health in other ways as well.
For example, one study showed that alternating between sitting and standing improved blood sugar responses after a meal. This is incredibly useful, as high blood sugar levels increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Standing desk research isn’t extensive, not by a long shot. There aren’t that many studies, so our knowledge is spotty. Studies even come up with different ideas for the ideal length of sitting versus standing each day.
As a result, standing desks could have other benefits that we’re not aware of yet.
Standing desks often increase productivity, partly because you’re standing rather than sitting and also because you’re shifting positions regularly. This is fantastic news, as so easy to run at half-steam while you’re working.
This increased productivity means that people using standing desks may get more work done – even though they need to regularly switch from sitting to standing, then back again.
Problems With Standing Desks
While standing desks can be helpful, they won’t solve all your challenges overnight. They actually come with a decent number of issues of their own.
Can Cause Pain In Your Feet And Legs
The first thing you’ll notice with a standing desk is that it hurts. You often end up with pain in your feet, legs, and lower back.
That pain starts off subtle at first, but can quickly get worse. It might not go away once you switch to sitting either.
Standing Too Long Isn’t Healthy Either
Right now, there’s a strong kickback against sitting down for most of the day.
But, many people have the opposite problem, they’re on their feet all day for their jobs. Doing this isn’t any better than sitting all day – you’re simply faced with a different set of challenges.
In particular, too much time on your feet can increase the risk of some heart conditions, and may lead to deep vein thrombosis or swelling in your legs and feet. This is why it’s best to alternate between standing and sitting. Don’t just stick to one approach.
Sitting And Standing Gets Frustrating
Standing desks work best when you’re switching position regularly. This gets a bit frustrating, especially by the end of the day.
You’re not just changing your position either. You also need to change the height of your desk (or move to a different one). After all, a desk that’s tall enough to stand at will be too tall for sitting.
This switching process won't take much effort if you have an adjustable electric standing desk. If you have a manual one or just a stand on your desk, the process gets much more complicated.
Changing your position and your desk could also mess with your workflow and productivity, potentially breaking your flow. This isn’t great if you’re in the middle of something.
They Might Decrease The Amount You Exercise
If you’re spending a chunk of your workday standing, you may want to get off your feet once you get home. This pattern could be counterproductive, as you’re not likely to want to go for a walk, a run, or attend an exercise class if you’re in pain.
Even if the decrease in motivation is slight, it could be enough to get you exercising a little less. This is concerning, as standing doesn’t replace exercise. It doesn’t even come close.
Doesn’t Work Well For All Situations
Earlier on, we mentioned that standing desks increase productivity. That’s true, but productivity is tough to measure and effects won’t always be the same.
For one thing, it’s easy enough to be productive when you’re standing up and taking a call. I sometimes use a standing desk to write, particularly on topics I know well. However, tasks that require creativity or fine movements are much more difficult to do while standing.
There are also differences between people. You might find it more difficult to concentrate while standing than sitting. Some of us do.
Standing desks present practical challenges as well.
First, how do you change the height? An adjustable desk is the easiest approach, but these are expensive. Otherwise, you might need a stand you can add or remove from your current desk or to have two separate desks at different heights.
Each of these approaches has its limits. Do you have enough space for two desks in the same room?
What about your computer setup? Standing desks are easy enough if you’re using a laptop or a tablet. They’re much more complicated if you’re using a full PC with multiple monitors.
While these practical challenges are often easy to resolve, sometimes they can be a serious pain. If you have a small office, for example, having two desks might be impossible.
Types Of Standing Desks
The balance of pros and cons partly depends on the type of standing desk you choose. Many are fixed height, which means you’ll need to swap to an entirely different desk when it’s time to sit.
Others follow a sit-stand style. These are adjustable, so you can sit sometimes and stand other times. Some of these are powered, so you can just push a button to lift them. Others use some type of lever to raise and lower them.
The sit-stand style is appealing, making it easy to transition between sitting and standing. Remember, standing all day isn’t a good idea at all.
A variation on the theme is stands that you can put on your regular desk to raise the height. These are often the cheapest option. They work well if you just have a single laptop or perhaps a keyboard and screen, but they’re less practical if you’re dealing with a multi-monitor setup.
What About Treadmill Desks?
Treadmill desks are exactly what they sound like. You get to walk on a treadmill while you’re working.
The approach does keep you moving and is certainly healthier than sitting still all day. You could see even more benefits than a standing desk.
Still… trying to walk on a treadmill and also be productive isn’t easy. Doing so might work well for some personalities and jobs. Honestly though, most of us wouldn’t be that productive walking on a treadmill and working.
It’s probably better to get your exercise and work done at different times, rather than trying to jam the two in together.
How To Use A Standing Desk Well
Don’t Sit Or Stand For Too Long
As we discussed earlier, you should be alternating between positions. This often means switching positions every half an hour or 45 minutes.
Waiting too long means that you end up with pain, which might not disappear once you switch positions.
Shift Before It Hurts
It’s tempting to simply switch positions when your current one is painful, but doing so isn’t effective at all, as the pain can stay with you for quite a while. Instead, it’s best to learn how long you can be in a position before it starts to hurt, then switch a little while before that point.
Doing so helps to protect you from long-term pain and should mean that you still feel good at the end of the day.
Standing while working at a desk is unfamiliar to most of us, so it takes our bodies time to adjust to the new approach. The best way to do this is to start slowly.
You might even just stand for 5 or 10 minutes at a time, then sit for an hour. You can then gradually increase your standing time as you go.
Pay Attention To Your Posture
Whether you’re sitting or standing, posture and overall desk setup is critical.
In particular, the screen should be at your eye level or slightly below it. Keeping your arms at roughly a 90 degree angle is important too. And, of course, have a good posture. Slouching while you’re standing will negate most of the benefits of your desk.
Remember to keep a good posture when you’re sitting as well. This includes a 90 degree angle with your arms again and keeping your monitor at a good height.
Get Plenty Of Movement
Simply switching from sitting to standing isn’t going to dramatically improve your health. You’ll also need to make sure you’re moving around regularly. Thankfully, this is easy to do when you’re standing up anyway.
Even just walking around the room, fetching a glass of water, or doing a couple of stretches can be helpful, as the impacts of these small movements quickly add up. Doing so could even be more powerful than using a standing desk.
Look At What Works For You
Experimenting is important as well. We all have different work situations and needs, so what works well for one person might be an awful fit for another.
This may mean trying different lengths of time sitting and standing to find the right rhythm. You may also need to play around with the type of desk you’re using.
Think about the work you’re doing when standing versus sitting as well. Some types of work are much easier when you’re sitting down, like drawing, where you need fine motor control. Answering emails, on the other hand, is just as easy standing as it is sitting.
Think About Your Feet
You can buy mats to go under your standing desk. These provide more support than you’ll get from the floor itself. Some are even designed to promote movement, so you don’t stay dead still the entire time.
Your shoes matter as well. Having supportive shoes will make the world of difference. Walking shoes can be perfect, depending on whether you’re able to wear them at the office or not.
Is A Standing Desk Essential?
There’s been a lot of buzz around the dangers of sitting, which make it sound like sitting at a desk is incredibly bad for you – perhaps even as bad as smoking.
Now, sedentary lifestyles are extremely unhealthy. There’s no denying that. These are lifestyles where you spend a lot of time sitting and lying down, and barely any time moving.
But, if you’re sitting all day at work, then regularly walking, running, swimming, or going to the gym, you’re not being sedentary at all.
Having a standing desk might offer additional benefits. It probably won’t revolutionize your health. Also, if you find that using a standing desk is reducing the amount you’re exercising, then the approach seriously isn’t worth it.
An alternative approach is to simply find more opportunities to stand during your working day. For example, why not stand when you’re taking a phone call, rather than sitting? You don’t need a standing desk to do this.
As long as you’re not using them all day every day, standing desks can be helpful. They may help combat some of the issues that come with sitting at a desk all day.
Even so, they’re not the revolutionary idea that they’re promoted as.
Seriously. Sitting too much isn’t what’s causing health issues for most people. The problem is sitting too much and not doing much else. Simply moving more during the day (particularly if you’re working from home) or after work helps to mitigate the problems of sitting much more than standing will.
If you are going to use a standing desk, make sure that you have a good posture and that you shift between standing and sitting regularly. Doing so helps you avoid any issues that come from standing too long at a time.