Not everyone needs a standing desk. They aren’t the solution to all the problems associated with sedentary office work. They will not help you lose weight.
It’s time to dispel the myth that standing is exercise or that it’s the answer to your back pain.
Busting the Standing Desk Myth
Do some people benefit from a standing desk? Absolutely. But, when it comes to health, each person and office place is going to have different needs.
In the past couple years, we’ve seen aggressive marketing and information campaigns as well as extensive media coverage on standing desks, also known as sit-stand desks.
Some of this was true. A Standing desk facilitates much needed postural changes. They are excellent in call centres, for example, where employees rarely get away from their desks, except during breaks.
These workers need a way to change postures while continuing their work, and a sit-stand desk lets them do just that.
Similarly, at non-dedicated workstations, you need easy adjustability to accommodate the proper sitting and standing heights of different people.
If someone is designing and setting up a new office space, I’d always recommend installing height-adjustable standing desks. It’s easier and cheaper in the long run – whenever there’s some reorganization, the worker simply programs their numbers into their new desk (as long as it’s an electronic model).
The problem is, very effective marketing – coupled with media hype – has convinced many office workers that they absolutely need a sit-stand desk. This advertising was very targeted, often appearing in travel or athletic magazines. They knew which demographic they could sway.
Sadly, it worked. People reported in self-questionnaires that they were more active since getting a sit-stand.
What People Don’t Realize About Standing Desks
Some of the articles even provided anecdotal evidence of people losing weight from standing. This would be great, if it was true.
People need movement, activity, if they want to maintain a healthy weight. The root of most workplace discomforts is poor posture and being sedentary. A standing desk on its own solves neither.
Studies show that standing for an hour burns eight more calories than an hour of sitting. But, standing for an hour straight is a terrible idea (especially on a regular basis).
Yes, excessively sitting tightens up the hamstrings and the buttocks, amongst a host of arguably more serious problems.
But standing for too long leads to extra strain on the heart, decreased mental state, blood pooling in the lower limbs, hip pain from favouring one leg, knee pain from locking the joints, and back pain due to leaning on the desk for support – to name a few.
If you already have fluid retention in the limbs, a sit-stand is not for you. Go for regular walks instead.
I’m not against standing desks. I’m against the misinformation that has people believing standing is being active.
If you have a height-adjustable workstation, you should stand for small increments during the day. But this is more about postural change than it is about standing. It’s best to start short, around five minutes an hour, and go from there. We have a customizable sit-stand timer built into our free break reminder to help you with this.
If you feel like you can stand for longer, that’s great. But don’t start standing for hours at a time. It’s not healthier than sitting. And keep in mind, some jobs are better performed seated.
What You Need to Know About Sit-Stand Desks
A major problem we encounter is people who have received a sit-stand desk, or moved to a cubicle that already has one, but received minimal training on how to use it or set it up. This can be extremely harmful.
In these situations, people often stand for way too long, thinking it is healthy to do so. At the same time, they likely set their desk to the wrong height, leading to more prolonged forward bending.
What most people don’t know is that the monitor(s) needs to be adjusted differently relative to the desk when sitting versus standing. This is because the distance between your eyes and typing surface changes.
Without an adjustable arm for your monitor, you might be adding neck strain to the list of concerns.
Lastly, if you are getting standing desks, make sure the surface is large enough to host all workplace items – phones, writing surfaces, keyboards, mice, calculators. Otherwise you’ll be looking up at a screen and bending down or reaching for everything else.
It’s essential not to use anti-fatigue mats when standing at your desk. Doing so mutes your body’s natural feedback system. If you are feeling discomfort, your body is telling you it’s time to change posture.
You should, however, wear cushioned footwear. Sit-stands are not compatible with high heels and cowboy boots.
How to Make a Difference
Standing desks look neat and trendy, I understand that. But ball chairs did, too. When expensive equipment is needlessly given out, it diverts resources from where they are most needed. Instead of getting caught up in the sit-stand hype, start going on short, regular walks instead, alternating your work tasks between standing activities and sitting, or consider taking calls while pacing. This will make a difference, guaranteed.
These days we often hear “sitting is the new smoking.” No, sedentariness is the new smoking and that includes standing at your desk. You need to move much more than you need stand. Plus, a walk gives you much more of a posture break than standing ever could.
Standing for three hours rather than sitting burns the same calories as in one carrot. Walking for half an hour, burns more than in four carrots. The solution is pretty clear to me.
It’s great if you are using a sit-stand, but realize this: standing desks require a lot more ergonomic awareness than traditional workstations. If you don’t have this awareness, it’s worth looking into.
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