Benefits of Standing Desks
Sitting is the New Smoking!
There are many supporters of standing or adjustable height desks, but not many studies to back up many of the user-reported benefits of standing desks. I personally have been standing at my desk for over a year and even though it is crudely put together and not an adjustable height desk, I have found like many others, or at least I believe, that my health and energy level has improved by doing so.
Doctors continue to report that sitting is very bad for our health, in fact some doctors even liken it to smoking. Essentially, the medical community is telling us that continued sitting and living a sedentary lifestyle is slowly killing us, much like taking puffs from the cancer stick.
Unfortunately, while numerous studies have shown that sitting is bad, there exist no formal studies to show the benefits of standing, particularly the benefits of standing desks. Certainly, there is proof that exercise improves your health, but standing at your desk? Some doctors are unsure that standing alone without other forms of activity will be enough to counteract the effects of prolonged sitting, which may indeed be the case; however, users of standing desks continue to rave about them, whether they are truly providing healthy effects or not, they are certainly making the benefits of standing desks seem more plausible even if they haven't been proven yet.
Standing Desks at the Highest Levels
What the Doctors Say about the Benefits of Standing Desks
There have been numerous interviews with health professionals regarding the benefits of standing desks or adjustable height desks. Below are some remarks typical of the health community - not knocking standing, but the general consensus is that there simply is not enough evidence to prove the benefits at this time.
Marc Hamilton is a professor of inactivity physiology at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La. and has led numerous studies demonstrating the health dangers of inactivity. He said there is little doubt that long periods of sitting carry health risks, but he has never seen evidence directly linking the use of standing or moving desks to improved health.
"It's a creative idea, but it's not been scientifically proven," he said. "As of now, there's really no research to show they do any good."
However, Hamilton also stated that standing is probably somewhat better than sitting. He's simply not sure that it's enough to bring someone out of the sedentary category. If it does offer some benefit, he said that much like taking a medication, studies need to determine the correct dosage for maximum health benefits.
The real key is that you should not sit all day. Regardless of whether you're standing, walking around, bouncing on a ball, or whatever else you can comfortably and reasonably do at the office, you should do that versus sitting. Sitting will kill you - that is backed by solid evidence.
What the Users Say About the Benefits of Standing Desks
I'm talking about real users here, not the people who sell standing desks, they will obviously tell you they work. There are numerous examples online of folks who have reviewed all sorts of standing desks and provided great reviews of many different types.
While I've seen negative statements about specific desks or features, I've yet to run across users who have negative things to say about the actual benefits of the desks. They may not like features, but they love standing and they say it has improved their health!
Here's what I see and hear most from people who are standing or using adjustable height desks:
More Energy! You can't really fall asleep if you're standing, right? Most people, myself included, feel much more consistently energized. I personally don't drink coffee or caffeinated drinks (except an occasional hot tea), but I find that I have no trouble staying alert and focused while I'm standing. Back when I was sitting, I would absolutely fall into that after lunch coma and fight the urge to take a little shut-eye...not anymore!
Maintaining Weight - While you may not lose weight, one of the benefits of standing desks that I have noticed and heard from others is that my weight has stayed the same since I've been standing. I have done my own personal experiment (forced upon me by a busy schedule and lack of prioritizing) in which I did not exercise for about 2-3 months, but I used my standing desk during that time. Surprisingly, I kept the same weight throughout that time unlike previous lapses in exercise when I was sitting in which that 2-3 month period of inactivity would result in 5-10 extra pounds I'd have to work off. Certainly there are many factors involved in an individual's weight, but there does appear to be some evidence pointing to extra calories being burned while standing. Some doctors have said you can burn up to 300-500 extra calories a day, just by using a standing desk or an adjustable height desk.
More Engaging - Since you are now standing, presumably you can now see over that cubicle wall that has separated you and you're closest neighbor for the last several years. You may not want to see what's going on over there, but if you have a friendly neighbor or need to work with that person on a regular basis, communication is much more easily facilitated. Additionally, people can see you as they're walking around as well (which may not be a good thing in some cases). I have had conversations with coworkers several cubicles down that I didn't have when I was sitting because I couldn't see them!
More Focused - Similar to having more energy. Many people report that they can maintain focus on tasks more easily while standing and some people just think better on their feet. While I tend to have a little trouble focusing in general, I do find that I typically get tasks done more quickly while I'm standing versus while sitting. To avoid some of the possible over-engagement allowed by standing desks, I will don a pair of nice over-the-ear headphones and zone in on what I'm doing while I'm standing - this really amps up my focus and allows me to work much more effectively.
Opening New Windows to Your World
Have you tried standing? What did you think?
Tips to Make Standing Desks Even Better
Don't stand all the time -
A common misconception is that you are supposed to stand all the time - No! I constantly have people come into my office and ask "Why are you sitting, I thought you were supposed to be working at a standing desk?" Well, yes, I am working at a standing desk, but it can be bad for you to stand the whole time as well. Most recommend standing for an hour and then sitting for an hour. This keeps your body moving and doesn't fatigue your legs and back. I find that I typically just stand as much as possible and wind up getting called into a meeting in which I will have to sit for inevitably and hour or more, so my sitting requirement is essentially handled involuntarily. You'll have to figure what works best for you, but certainly don't try to tough it out and stand all day - you'll just end up sore and likely worse for wear.
Unfortunately, I don't have an adjustable height desk, which is really what you want. Without an adjustable height you either have to come up with clever ways to use your computer peripherals or use your computer like you're riding a chopper down the freeway...I would totally recommend adjustable height if you have the money for it, they're not much more expensive.
Use mats or very comfortable shoes -
Business shoes with hard soles or high heels will kill you if you're trying to stand up at your desk. Try leaving a pair of tennis shoes under your desk so that you can slip into them when you're at the desk for a while. Certainly, if you're working from home or your work allows comfy shoes take advantage of that. If you don't have the opportunity to change shoes, buy a mat. They only cost about $30 or so and they'll provide the same cushion as your comfy shoes.
Consult your Doctor -
If you have back, leg, ankle, or spine problems, you should probably talk to your doctor before taking on a standing desk. You definitely don't want to injure or irritate an existing condition so make sure it's ok before you start. Having said that, I work with two people who use standing desks that were told by their doctor to try standing at their desk. They love it and have found significant health improvement from standing.
Just Do It!
It took a long time for me to finally jump up and stand. I along with one other coworker were the first on our floor to implement a standing desk arrangement. While we caught a lot of office banter for the first few months, slowly but surely more and more people came by and observed that we were still doing it and started to think that their must be some benefit to this standing desk thing. Now, probably 10% of our workers are trying standing desks or something else besides sitting all day (bouncy balls, stools + standing, walking breaks, etc).
The Right Way to Stand
Just Some of the Benefits of Standing Desks
No Proof, but Plenty of Evidence
Wrapping it all up, there is no formal proof that standing desks have significant health benefits, but the overwhelming empirical evidence suggests that at the very least they are better than sitting at your desk and may even improve your overall quality of life while you work. If you have the opportunity, just try it out and see for yourself. I started out by stacking cardboard boxes full of paper on top of my desk just to get up and out of my chair - it's as simple as that!
Take your time and ease into it if you're unsure, but the more you do it and maintain good posture and follow the other tips I've mentioned I'm certain you'll discover the benefits of standing desks just as I and many others have.
Good luck and please leave comments and questions!