It was right around Christmas 2013 when I began to use a standing desk at work. One year later, I can safely say that this was one of the better decisions I’ve ever made.
The only reason I’ve ever heard of a healthy person not choosing to use a standing desk is that they are afraid that their legs will hurt. As a survivor of Dance Marathon, a 32-hour event that requires participants to stand for the entire duration, I was already inoculated against this concern.
Despite prior experience with prolonged standing, the first week was still challenging. My legs would get sore, I’d have to shift around a lot, and it was uncomfortable. Of course, when I’d get home from work, sitting on my couch was like drinking the nectar of the gods.
And once I got past that week, I haven’t looked back. In fact, even after spending some weeks traveling (and thus away from my standing desk), I could still return to daily standing with only minimal discomfort.
Okay, but what has the standing desk actually done for me?
It has eliminated my back pain, reduced the incidence of dizzy spells that come from low blood pressure, and has kept me in better shape.
A couple months of sitting all day at work was enough for me to start developing some nasty back pain. Nothing “medical" per se, but just the normal back pain that I think most people tend to suffer from. Gone almost instantly.
I don’t want to delve too deep into my medical history, but a major thorn in my side has nearly gone away. I would say that the frequency of dizzy spells I used to get have decreased by about 90-95%. Of course, your mileage may vary, and you should speak to a doctor about this. My dizziness may very well have a different cause than yours, and I don’t want you to blame me if you pass out J.
I’ve also improved my endurance. It’s much easier to walk up and down flights of stairs (not that this was ever a huge problem for me, but you get my drift), and I have no problem moving around for longer periods of time.
That’s my personal case study in the benefits of a standing desk. But I’m only (hold on, I’m counting) one man, and it’s always a good idea to check out what science has to say about this kind of thing. And it’s no secret that being sedentary has deleterious effects on your health.
It was only somewhat recently that scientists have found that even for people who exercise an appropriate amount, time spent inactive and sitting is independently associated with type 2 diabetes, higher mortality rates, and other adverse health outcomes.1,2 In other words, going to the gym in the morning doesn’t give you an excuse to sit for the rest of the day. There is an entirely separate sedentary vs. active axis apart from getting your exercise.
As such, it is critical that you try to considerably reduce the amount of time spent sitting. For some people this may be impossible – perhaps, for whatever reason, a standing desk at work is simply out of the question. You’ll be happy to know that taking breaks from sitting periodically, even for just a minute or two, can be enough to prevent many of the negative health effects of too much sitting.3,4 So get up every half hour to walk a quick lap around your floor, at the very least!
The health effects are all well and good, of course, but they aren’t all that glamorous. You won’t get a six-pack just from standing for longer periods of time. Nor will you really notice your decreased rate of metabolic diseases and lower mortality risk. But you will notice decreases in neck and back pain, which a huge percentage of people have problems with.5 As an added bonus, if you do work that requires collaboration, creativity, exchanging information, and solving problems, then more time standing will improve your performance!6
Getting a standing desk is just about the most straightforward way to get these benefits. And it doesn’t need to cost you much; mine is basically just a wooden plank with stilts thrown onto my normal desk.
Quite a bit more can be said about the benefits of a standing desk, techniques to make it more comfortable while you adjust, how to pick out a standing desk, and so on. But for right now, I just want to reflect on one little change I made this past year which has had a huge impact.
Do you use a standing desk, or have other ways to avoid spending too much time sitting at work?