The health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle are well established. It’s correlated with multiple negative health outcomes, including diabetes, heart disease, back pain, and weight gain.
The average American desk jockey spends 10 hours a day sitting, according to the Washington Post. Even if you exercise for an hour day, it’s hard to reverse that damage.
How to solve the problem? One simple but pricey option is the standing desk. On the surface, it looks like an elegant solution. Sitting too much at your desk? Then try standing instead!
But it’s not quite that easy. Like most things in life, standing desks have both positives and negatives.
A standing desk may resolve some of the issues of a sedentary lifestyle. One major problem is that when you sit at a desk, your tendency is to hunch over the screen. (Which you’re doing right now, aren’t you?) Most standing desks allow you to adjust the height so that it’s easy to read the screen without bending your neck. In the long run, this could resolve back and neck pain issues.
A Mayo Clinic study of 1,000 workers had an interesting finding that appears to support the case for standing desks. They found that more sedentary workers were significantly more likely to gain weight than those were more active. Not CrossFit “more active,” but simply getting up to stretch, walk around, or just go to the bathroom.
Another study conducted in 1953 found that bus operators, who stood all day, had a lower rate of heart disease than drivers, who sat all day. While a standing desk isn’t going to give you a six pack or guarantee you live to see your 100th birthday, there is evidence that it’s associated with better health outcomes.
The most obvious problem with a standing desk? As anyone who works on their feet can tell you, it’s uncomfortable. And it’s difficult to work when you’re uncomfortable. It’s particularly uncomfortable if you’re not using your fancy standing desk correctly. If your company switches to standing desks, make sure you have regular tutorials on how to use them properly.
The other issue is standing all day long. In fact, this can be almost as damaging as sitting for the vast majority of the day. “If what you’re doing is replacing sitting with standing, you’re not actually doing your body any favors,” says Cornell University Professor Alan Hedge. “In fact, you’re introducing a whole variety of new risk factors.” Studies have found that standing can also lead to cardiovascular problems and back pain.
The key, many experts say, is balance. Stand some, sit some, and be sure to move around regularly. Employers can support their employees not just by buying expensive standing desks, but by allowing and encouraging them to stay active during the day. They’ll be more productive and more healthy for it.