To Sit or to Stand: Standing Desks in the Workplace

Photo courtesy of Anthro Technology Furniture

It’s no secret that sitting for eight hours or more a day can take a major toll on your body. In addition to the commonly experienced lethargy and  back and shoulder pains, scientists say that people sitting for prolonged periods each day are at a higher risk for obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Sitting may even be shaving years off your life. Researchers of a 2012 BMJ Open report estimated that by reducing sedentary activity to less than three hours per day, the average American’s life would be prolonged by two years.

Yes, “sitting is killing us,” but many employees have little choice but to spend 8 hours or more a day at their desk. In response to these risks, health-conscious companies and workers are turning toward a new alternative to the swivel chair: the standing desk.

Benefits of a standing desk

By standing for just a few hours daily at the office, employees incorporate more movement into the work day. In addition to burning more calories and activating muscles more frequently, this can lessen the harmful effects of sitting.

The lack of movement associated with long periods of sitting is harmful, Jane White from the UK’s Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) told the BBC in 2012.

“It’s being static that’s the health issue – it slows down the circulatory system, blood, oxygen and vital nutrients,” White told the BBC.

Using a standing desk helps alleviate stillness, producing the opposite effects on the body.  It also decreases the risk for obesity and heart disease. If used frequently enough, it may even add those extra two years back onto your life.

But the benefits to using standing desks don’t end with these health benefits: some users report better concentration, creativity and overall productivity at work.

Nichole Stutzman, Creative Manager at Anthro Technology Furniture, and other Anthro employees use the company’s adjustable sit/stand desks in the workplace. Stutzman estimates that she sits half the day and stands the other half.

“When I really have to zone in on something, such as mathematical work, sitting really helps,” Stutzman said.  But she finds that when she needs to start a new project, or delve into more creative endeavors, the physical change of standing provides a boost to her productivity.

“It’s not just sitting versus standing,” Stutzman said. “It’s almost like pressing the “reset button.”

Is a Standing Desk for You?  

Making the switch from sitting for most of the work day to standing for several hours isn’t easy, but Heidi Whitcomb, Multimedia Designer at Anthro and owner of Spectera Graphic Design, says it’s well worth it.

Like many other desk-ridden employees, after sitting for long work days, Whitcomb used to get aches in her legs and feel restless on her commute home. Adding in an Elliptical Trainer to her standing desk last June helped alleviate these problems and “made standing easier,” she said.

“Not sitting keeps me alert through the afternoon and I’m only pleasantly tired by the end of the day,” Whitcomb said.  “I have a long commute and now, instead of feeling restless the whole way, I am more relaxed and happy to be sitting for that hour.”

Although Whitcomb said the amount of time she spends sitting, standing, and using the elliptical varies greatly day to day, she is now able to use the elliptical for most of the day when she want to, sitting down only for lunch.

Eric Stevens, a 22-year-old web developer from Maryland, had a less positive experience with using a standing desk.

Stevens began experiencing back pain a few months into his first job out of college, where he was sitting between eight and nine hours a day. He bought a table and stool one lunch break, becoming the second person in his office to have a standing desk.

At first, Stevens was excited about his new desk and stood between four to six hours a day, sitting on the stool whenever he felt tired. But after a few weeks, he was standing for just two hours a day or less. Eventually, Stevens decided to go back to sitting in a chair for the entire day.

“It got to the point where my back was hurting again because the stool I was using had no back support and was much worse than a chair,” Stevens said.  “I guess the excitement of having a standing desk went away and I didn’t have the motivation to stay standing.”

Since standing desks are often used as an alternative to sitting without completely replacing it, having a comfortable, ergonomic chair available is a must-have supplement — especially for those prone to back pain. Those interested in standing for a majority of the day or using an elliptical or treadmill supplement with their desk should also consider bringing comfortable shoes to work.

Where to buy a standing desk:

 There are several companies that you or your company can purchase adjustable standing desk from. Examples include: Anthro Technology Furniture, UpDesk and Focal Upright Furniture.

 However, these options can be expensive (many are over $1,000), especially if you’re paying out of pocket without your company’s support. Colin Nederkoorn of iamnotaprogrammer.com developed this $22 standing desk hack using furniture from Ikea.

If you don’t have the resources to get a standing desk but want to take action:

  1. Make it a point to stand up, stretch and take a short walk around the office every hour or so.
  2. Instead of shooting your coworker another email, walk over to their desk.
  3. Skip the elevator and take the stairs.
  4. If distance and weather allow, walk or bike to work.
  5. Take a walk outside during your lunch break.
  6. Hit the gym after work
  7. Stand up during some or all of your commute.
  8. Limit sedentary activity after such as TV after work (or walk in place/on the treadmill while you watch).

Do you use a standing desk in the workplace or would you like to try it? How does sitting or standing in the workplace affect you?