The Benefits of Standing Desks – What You Need to Know
Too much sitting can be bad for you. Studies have revealed an alarming statistic.
Compare men who sit for 6 hours or more each day and those who sit for 3 hours. The 6 hour a day men have on average a death rate 20% higher. That’s quite alarming.
For women it’s even worse. Sitting for 6 hours against 3 hours means a 40% higher death rate.
And while you’re digesting this bad news let me slide this one right on in:
Regular exercise such as hitting the gym or running does not cancel out the harmful effects of prolonged sitting down.
Research makes it clear that standing all day is not ideal for the human body. We need to be moving and we need to spread the load throughout our bodies.
The message? You should be standing a good proportion of the day but make sure you rest at other times too.
A sit-stand desk allows you to move your body and stand or sit at will.
If you have a desk job you should do what you can to avoid a sedentary lifestyle. So, consider standing for one hour, sitting for half an hour, then standing and so on.
With all that in mind, let’s look at some of the health benefits of standing desks.
1. Standing desks can reduce obesity
Our default way of living has become prolonged hours of sitting punctuated by brief periods of standing and walking. The human body was not designed to be that way.
We need to let standing and walking be the normal. In between, sitting will provide us with the rest we need.
James Levine of the Mayo Clinic has carried out a lot of research into the long-term effects of prolonged sitting.
In one study Levine recruited a group of office workers. He asked them to a consume a daily calorie level of around 1000 more calories than they would normally. The workers were then go about their usual daily routine for the next few days. As expected, after a period of time some of the workers began to put on weight whilst others did not. This despite all of the workers having approximately the same daily patterns.
Levine wanted to test what was going on and why some workers put on weight when others did not. He attached sensors to the clothing of each participants. All of the workers were based at sitting desks and none were active gym-goers. Not long after he found out why some were gaining weight and others were not. Those people not gaining weight were walking around two hours a day more (on average) than the others.
It was all very simple: the workers that moved around more in the office did not gain weight. They took breaks, visited colleagues’ offices and went to and from the photocopier at regular intervals etc.
The key to maintaining weight, therefore, is keeping active. If you have a sitting desk then the way to keep active is to get up regularly and walk about. Better still, if you have a standing desk then you are not sitting so much anyway and the act of standing will burn more calories than if you were sitting.
So, stand up as much as you can, take regular walking “mini breaks” and keep your body moving as you much as you can.
Get up, get up more often, and when you’re up, move around.
2. Standing desks can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease
There has been a lot of research about this over many decades. In the 1950s in London there was a study to compare the levels of heart disease between bus drivers (who sit) compared to the conductors on the same buses who stand. What did the study reveal? The bus drivers suffered more heart attacks than the bus conductors.
Since that time another study at the Mayo Clinic has determined that adults who spend more hours a day sitting rather standing have an increased chance of developing cardiovascular disease by 125%. Other studies have confirmed this – sedentary lifestyles increases the chances of getting a heart attack. A body needs to move on a regular basis. Sitting and lying is only to allow the body to rest and recuperate. Just don’t overdo the sitting.
3. Standing desks can reduce metabolic issues
Sitting down for long periods at a time can cause metabolic issues because your circulation suffers. If you are not moving your circulation slows down and this means you don’t produce enough enzymes. These are necessary in your body to process sugar and fats. With fewer enzymes This cause your metabolic rate to slow down. You will notice this if you eat a big meal and then sit down. With fewer enzymes your body has to do more work to break down all the food. This makes you feel drowsy as your circulation struggles to cope. That’s why so many of us fall asleep after eating Christmas dinner!
4. Standing desks can reduce back pain
Anecdotal and scientific evidence suggests that standing while you work (rather than sitting) can alleviate back pain. It can also prevent and ease other repetitive stress-related injuries.
The problem with sitting is that you don’t engage your back muscles anywhere near so much in this position. In fact, you are not holding your upper body weight at all because the chair is holding you instead. This leads to compression of the chest and abdomen. Your spine rolls forward and your shoulders slouch over. Prolonged sitting in this state over time leads to repetitive stress injuries and chronic back pain. You will probably notice this pain more during occasions when you have to stand for long periods. You will probably feel a slow build up of dull pain in your spine. This is because your spine is not used to taking the weight.
There are big benefits of standing desks in this area. Increasing the length of time that you stand during the day. By doing you so you will re-train you your core and back muscles. The more they engage the less your chances of feeling lower back pain in the future.
5. Standing desks can reduce the chances of getting diabetes
The pancreas is the organ in your body that produces insulin. Insulin is a hormone that breaks down sugars in your body from your digestive system and turns into glucose. Glucose is energy for the body cells.
Idle muscles do not respond so well when they receive this glucose energy from your system. To try and counteract this the pancreas produces more insulin to force the muscles to respond and take in the glucose. An over-productive pancreas could lead to the medical condition that we know as diabetes, which is a disease where the body’s ability to produce or respond to the hormone insulin is impaired. Elevated levels of glucose in the blood and your body’s inability to break down sugars correctly are classic symptoms. This condition can lead to a host of other conditions in the body if not kept in check and can be a killer.
6. Standing desks can prevent leg disorders
Poor blood circulation around the body can lead to lots of problems. One of the worst areas for this is in the legs.
A common natural cause of low circulation is sitting down for prolonged periods. When this happens a typical symptom is blood pooling in the lower body and legs.
Take an example of long haul flights. Sitting down for hours an end can for some people lead to blood pooling in the legs. This gives rise to symptoms such as swollen ankles and varicose veins in a condition known as “deep vein thrombosis”. There has been a lot about this in the last decade which has spawned an industry of products designed to help and alleviate the symptoms. One such product is flight socks which help to compress the legs and discourage the pooling of blood in that region.
People get deep vein thrombosis not because they are flying, but because they are sitting down for a long time and are hardly moving when they do. These same symptoms can occur anywhere under the same circumstances, such as sitting at a desk for a long period of time. However, people only seem to be concerned about it when they are in an aeroplane.
Consider this: you are sitting at your desk working on a project that takes just over three hours. That is the same length of time as sitting on a plane from New York to New Orleans. If you were on a plane you’d probably want to make sure you get up regularly and walk around. Do the same in your office and get that circulation going.
7. Standing desks can exercise your abs
Do this experiment now.
Sit down and pay attention to your stomach and your abdominal muscles around it. How do they feel? They probably feel compressed and squeezed up a little, not flexing or stretching.
Now stand up and pay attention to the same area. How do they feel now? They should feel more stretched, like they are working in supporting your weight. That is exactly what they are doing.
It won’t be difficult to decide in which position you are exercising your abs and when you are not. When you stand, your abdominal muscles are doing work. They are holding you upright. When you sit, you are not using your abdominal muscles. They go limp.
8. Standing desks are good for your hips
If you have flexible hips these will keep you balanced. However, if you sit down a lot you won’t be extending your hip flexor muscles. That’s bad news for your hips.
Long-term sitters rarely extend their hip flexor muscles. After time these muscles become both short and tight through lack of use. A limited range of motion and stride length is a usual consequence. By that stage you don’t walk, you shuffle.
Decreased hip mobility is a common cause of falling and tripping, especially in the elderly. Regular use of standing desk can help prevent your hips getting into a state like this, particularly if used in conjunction with a balance board which encourages continuous hip movement.
9. Standing desks can reduce the risk of cancer
This is a biggie. Do not overlook it.
There have been several studies on this although the results are not absolutely conclusive. There is mounting evidence that sitting down for extended periods of time can be linked with a higher risk of some forms of cancer. Further, studies show that breast cancer and colon cancer appear to the two most common forms linked to lack of movement, although later studies have extended this link to other forms such as lung cancer and prostate cancer.
The scientific principles are not yet entirely clear, but evidence suggests that biomarkers such as C-reactive protein appear in higher levels among people who sit for long periods of time. These biomarkers are thought to be linked to the development of cancer.
10. Standing desks can improve your posture
A key importance here is to make sure you set up the height correctly. If you don’t you will not reap the benefits of better posture.
Your computer screen should sit just above your “resting” eye level. Set it so that in order to focus on the screen you need to be looking up very slightly. In this way, you do not slouch or hunch over as you type. You should position your screen so that it is between 15″ to 30″ from your eyes.
Talking of the keyboard, that needs to be a comfortable height. It should not be too low that you need to keep peering down at it in order to see the keys. Neither should your arms ache as you type. Ideally, your wrists should be flat and at a 90 degree angle, resting on the surface as you type. This prevents repetitive strain injury.
11. Standing desks can reduce eye strain
Set it up as described immediately above and you will be doing your eyes a great favour too. If you screen is at the optimum height and distance this will reduce your eye strain. Over time that may push back the day you will start needing to wear glasses.
12. Standing desks can give you a longer life
I could have put this first, but let’s just say it’s very important.
More movement, more exercise and less sitting means you improve your life outlook. No-one will disagree with that. We have seen already that prolonged sitting could lead to increasing the chances of contracting horrible illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. It follows that movement is what your body needs and craves. A standing desk can you give you that. By standing and working you are not sitting down all the time, day in day out.
The bottom line is that a reduced sitting time every day plays a key role in promoting an active lifestyle. In turn, and in combination with regular physical exercise and eating healthily, this can increase life expectancy.
13. Standing desks can boost productivity
If you are considering asking your boss to buy you a standing desk then consider this idea. A standing desk can boost your productivity. Research has backed this up too.
A study published in “IIE Transactions on Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors” compared productivity levels between workers who stood and a control group who performed the same functions, but sitting down. These levels were measured using certain markers.
It was discovered that workers who stood were on average 45% more productive than those who sat. This compared workers doing the same tasks. Even better than this, productivity of the standing desk users increased over time too (presumably as they became accustomed to standing and working every day).
14. Standing desks can prevent neck strain
If you sit down for a long period of time you’ll find that you crane your neck towards your screen.
When you crane your neck it curves your spine at the same time, which forces the spine into a “C” shape. The spine bent in this configuration is not a healthy spine. A pain in the neck will usually result because your spine is not a natural shape.
When you stand up at a desk instead (and the screen is set at the optimum height) you elongate your spine and restore it to its natural “S” shape position. In this way, you do not strain your neck and you don’t feel any pain as a result.
15. Standing desks can reduce headaches
It’s all about your spine. As we saw above, with your spine aligned in the correct “S” position you exert far less strain on your neck and shoulders. That leads to fewer headaches.
Studies have borne this out but more research is being conducted. Very crudely, people who use a standing desk routinely for a significant length of time every day report having fewer and less headaches. Although we don’t quite know why, it must have a lot to do with the fact that the neck and shoulders are relaxed and there is no tension in your body in that area.
16. Standing desks increase your energy
This is a surprise to most people, but it’s true. Standing up increases your energy. But why?
When you stand at a desk your blood is able to flow more freely around your body. Remember earlier when we talked about blood pooling in the legs? Standing increases your circulation whereas sitting slows down your circulation.
The better your circulation the easier it is for your blood to supply the cells of your body with the energy they need. At the same time the blood takes away waste products from the cells. Your cells also receive oxygen from the blood. The result is that they get a significant boost as a result of the increased circulation.
So in that case how do you feel? You feel better and you have more energy. More energy gives you other benefits, such as increased productivity (see 13. above).
17. Standing desks increase lung capacity
Remember that awful spine “C” position we talked about? This happens when you are sitting and slouched.
When your spine is in this position you “hunch” over. This compresses your rib cage, thus decreasing your lung capacity as your breathing gets shallower.
Stand up and it all changes. Your spine adopts the healthy “S” position, your rib cage elongates and your lung capacity increases. This means that you breathe deeper and you are able to take in more oxygen. Breathing better and taking in more oxygen is a very good thing because it improves how you function – both physically and mentally. Your energy levels go up and so does your productivity. It really is that simple.
18. Standing desks help your digestive system
When you sit down your body compresses your digestive system. When that happens your system’s ability to process and digest slows down.
When this gets bad it can lead to conditions such as indigestion, heartburn, stomach cramps and bloating. If these conditions are left unchecked over time and occur repeatedly they can lead to more serious ailments such as bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome and obesity.
19. Standing desks can delay ageing
A host of other factors are at play here also, but standing desks do play a role in increasing activity. They are most effective for people who have sedentary lifestyles.
From a scientific point of view, a sedentary lifestyle is not a good thing. The consequence of such a lifestyle is that the ends of our DNA strands get shortened each time a cell divides. Once the ends get too short a cell cannot divide. Lack of cell division results in the ageing process. Therefore, think how you accelerate this by having a sedentary lifestyle.
20. Standing desks can improve your mood
There are many scientific studies which support the theory that your physiology can have a direct effect on your mood. Physiology is your body language and how you hold your body.
Walk with a stoop and with shuffling feet and your head bowed. You are unlikely to feel that good about yourself. Walk tall with your head held high and you will feel confident. Other studies have shown that if you force a smile for a short length of time you can trick your mind into believing you are happy because you are smiling. The result is that you feel happier.
Standing up with good posture sends a positive message to your brain. Your physiology tells it that you are feeling good. Your mind responds and you do feel good. No matter how bad you are feeling, you will feel better if you decide to stand with good posture rather than slumped and hunched in a chair.
21. Standing desks help you to feel more powerful and confident
The act of standing gives you a feeling of power. If you had to assert your authority over someone you would probably do it standing up so that you are looking down on them. Put yourself in an elevated position and you feel more powerful. As a result, you feel more confident. Standing up shifts your mental focus as more oxygen reaches your brain.
When you stand up and engage in activities you will generally feel better – both physically and mentally.