Office Desks: Sitting vs. Standing

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5 September 2023

Office Desks: Sitting vs. Standing

Much has been said about the advantages of standing rather than sitting at your desk while you work. You may have even heard that “sitting is the new smoking,” or that sitting at your desk for extended periods of time is the equivalent of smoking more than a pack of cigarettes every day. (Learn more in The Negative Health Implications of Sitting All Day And What To Do About It). Although the jury is still out as to exactly what benefits standing at your desk can provide, a good deal of research has been done about the benefits of standing, and there are many standing desks on the market (a standing desk is a specially designed workstation or an adaptation to a traditional desk that allows you to stand up while you work). Here is what we know so far.

Standing at your desk burns more calories

Standing rather than sitting will burn an extra 60-80 calories per day depending on how much you move around. The act of standing up also requires the use of large muscles in the legs and back that increase enzymes in the bloodstream which help to break down fat. Over time, standing can help you keep your weight under control or even potentially reduce it.

Standing helps reduce the risk of certain diseases

Standing, along with a moderate increase in movement, lowers cholesterol levels and the risk of heart attack, stroke, and can have a positive effect on blood glucose levels. Standing three times each hour even for just a couple of minutes has been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Standing helps prevent lower back issues

A standing workstation used for part of the day can help to prevent lower back issues. Standing helps to improve your posture and relieve pressure from your spine. While research has shown that standing might improve back pain, it is not a cure for serious back issues.

Standing can help make you a more productive employee

New studies have also shown that short walks or standing in the office for short periods of time can improve workplace engagement, concentration, and productivity.

The limitations of standing at your desk

If you decide to try a workstation that allows you to stand, don’t expect to stand all the time. It is a good idea to set a timer that will let you know how long you have been standing and when you should sit down. For tech enthusiasts, there several wearable technologies with smart apps on the market that can help you monitor this. In addition to considering how long you sit or stand at your desk, try to plan your workday in several locations, throughout your office, building, or community. Here are a few ideas to help keep yourself active:

1. Move to different workstations over the course of the day

If possible, move to a different workstation or table in your office when you change tasks. If you work in an open office environment or have opportunities to move to a different location in your building to work, take advantage of it when you can.

2. Move to different locations over the course of the day

If you are able to work at home, remotely, or are part of the “gig economy,” it might be possible to move your work around your community including to public libraries, your favorite coffee shops, or anywhere the Internet is available.

3. Get on your feet whenever possible

If lengthy meetings are part of your routine, don’t hesitate to quietly stand up every once in a while to stretch and move a little. Standing every once in a while for just a few minutes will help you maintain your energy level and focus.If your work involves watching presentations or participating in lengthy Skype meetings, or teleconferences, take that opportunity to get on your feet. There are countless opportunities throughout the day where you can make the choice to stand rather than sit, even for just a few minutes.

The health implications of sitting

Sitting for extended periods of time in the office along with a sedentary lifestyle has been linked to a variety of health issues including memory loss, cognitive deterioration, and even an earlier risk of death. (Learn more in Encouraging Employees To Achieve Healthy Eating And Fitness Goals In The Workplace). The use of a standing desk in combination with other things like proper footwear and the correct ergonomics related to office furniture and desktop technology can make a difference. Most health professionals agree that the best course of action is a balance of sitting and standing. The combination of both will lead to positive outcomes related to both cardiovascular and mental health.

Although a standing workstation might seem like the perfect solution to a variety of health issues, it should be pointed out that standing for more than two hours at a time can be just as problematic as sitting, leading to foot pain, swelling, varicose veins and a variety of orthopaedic concerns. Since standing workstations are a relatively new phenomenon, more research needs to be done on determining the correct ratio between sitting and standing. We do know that this balance will vary with each individual, taking into account their current physical fitness, weight, and existing health conditions. Regardless, the general consensus is that moderate physical movement and several short walks throughout the day will lead to a longer life and better health.