As an early adopter on standing desks, I may be biased. I made my first standing desk out of boxes under my monitor, keyboard, and mouse, after using an exercise ball chair wasn’t providing enough of a passive workout.
Why all the hype? Employees in white-collar, office jobs do not typically stand during the day; yet retail, factory, and other blue-collar workers might stand for most of their shifts. Prolonged standing may be as problematic as prolonged sitting. A recent study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found workers who stand on the job most of the time are at greater risk of heart disease than workers who predominantly sit.
What’s a health-concerned employee to do?
In job settings where you have the freedom to stand or sit as you please, consider investing in an adjustable standing desk. Study leader Dr. Peter Smith of the Institute for Work & Health said, “A combination of sitting, standing, and moving on the job is likely to have the greatest benefits for heart health.”
TotalWellness has a guide on how to DIY your own standing desk, though assembling a group of likeminded employees and petitioning HR and the C-suite for proper standing desks would be a better option than placing precious office equipment on cardboard boxes. There are a variety of lectern-style standing desks which sit atop existing office furniture and allow users to convert from a standing to a sitting position, and some organizations invest in sit-to-stand entire desk units.
Wearing comfortable shoes while using a standing desk is also a must, and to make a standing desk truly effective, industrial anti-fatigue mats are key. Working up to a full day of standing is also an important strategy to keep in mind. Just as you don’t start sitting on an exercise ball chair in one day (it’s a sleeper core workout), it’s best to gradually add more standing time into your day, to acclimate yourself to standing for longer periods of time.
A common myth about the benefits of standing desks is that people will burn more calories standing. People tend to overestimate the number of calories burned in exercise, studies show. Researchers found, in a study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, subjects burned 88 calories/hour while standing, versus 80 calories/hour while sitting. Standing at work isn’t going to help you lose weight or keep weight off, but a brisk walk at lunch could burn an extra 100 calories a day.
In sum, moving more in general at work has more health benefits than relatively sedentary sitting or standing. As Dr. Peter Smith said, “Prevention programs that focus solely on physical activity, while ignoring other conditions such as the psychosocial work environment, are unlikely to lead to meaningful changes in cardiovascular risk.” Standing or sitting isn’t the cause of an unhealthy workforce; it’s only a piece of the puzzle.