Do Standing Desks Actually Offer ANY Health Benefits?

3 months ago
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STAND UP! RIGHT THIS INSTANT!

I’m shouting at your for the good of your own health, apparently. We’re all being told we’re in the middle of a health crisis brought about by sitting down too much. Just so you know, I am CAPS-LOCKING at you about it while I sit at my perfectly standard sitting-downy style desk.

Cynicism aside, I actually do not dispute the fact that sitting down for long hours of the day will cause a range of health problems and other issues. I’ve experienced the incessant shoulder pain for myself! But it goes beyond just aches and pains and we’ll talk about that more in a minute.

What I want to discuss today is whether investing in a fairly costly standing desk actually offers any notable heath benefits over and above other methods of minimising your seated time.

The Dangers of Sitting

I feel as though I’m more aware of the health issues sitting causes than I ever have been. But the link between sitting and various health conditions is far from new. In fact, research in this area goes back to the 1950s when it was discovered that bus drivers were twice as likely to suffer a heart attack as conductors on the bus (who would be on their feet all shift as opposed to seated driving).

 

So it’s not new information. And NHS guidelines tell us sit down less (though advise there’s not enough research yet to give us more specific guidance).

 

The risks associated with spending too much time sitting down include:

  • Increased risk of heart attack
  • You’re likely to be overweight or obese (which is in itself associated with a plethora of health problems)
  • Increased risk of diabetes
  • Likely to have a range of cardiovascular problems
  • Metabolic syndrome

So there are lots of reasons not to spend too much time on behinds!

It can really have an impact on your mobility too. Personal Trainer, Damian Gilder, tells me:

I can always tell almost immediately if a new client had a sedentary job that involves lots of sitting at computers. When we spend a lot of time at a computer, we sit in a sort of hunched over position, which leads to a LOT of tightness, a lack of flexibility and poor posture. Long term, this can make even basic mobility a big task.

Damian Gilder, Personal Trainer Tweet

“But I have an office job”

It’s all good and well advising everyone to sit less and move more. But the reality is that millions of us work at desks in an office environment. And like it or not, spending 37.5+ hours each week at a computer is how we pay the bills.

 

“Don’t sit so much,” isn’t exactly practical for everyone is it?

 

But perhaps as freelancers and micro business owners with more say over our own working environments, we have a little more flexibility in designing a workspace that can help us move more and sit less. 

 

Standing desks, regular breaks from your desk, swapping the lift for the stairs and so on are all valid ways to reduce the amount of time you’re sedentary for. But what about standing desks?

 

It seems like everyone has started talking about standing desks over the past couple of years. And they do appear on the surface a great way to enable you to sit less without negatively impacting your productivity or ability to work.

 

But they are PRICEY! So do standing desks really warrant the investment?

 

Are standing desks worth it?

Ok, first of all I want to make clear that I firmly believe one investment always worth making is in your health. So if a standing desk is going to help you become more active, to sit less and is the single way you feel you can achieve that, then spend the money. Buy one second hand, refurbish one, do whatever you need to.

 

But what about other options?

 

Standing desk alternatives

I’m awkward. I’d like to stand and work part of the time and sit and work part of the time. And yes, I could get an adjustable standing desk that I can lower when I want to sit down. But it seems an expensive endeavour to replace my desk plus that of the 5 other people in our office to make this an option.

 

So instead I work here sometimes…

standing desk alternative

In fact, it’s not unusual for one or two of us to be standing here working at any one point. Everyone in the office has a laptop and a second monitor. They can unplug from the second monitor at any point and take their laptop somewhere else in the office.

You don’t need a standing desk. You just need a taller surface you can stand at and work, ideally with plug sockets to hand.

 

You can also buy platforms to put onto your existing desk known as “standing desk converters.”

You can get them from £30 up to well over £100 but still significantly less than buying a standing desk. Yes, there’s a bit of faff moving it up and down, but certainly this is a cost effective way to create a desk you can stand at. The benefit this has over my little workaround is that you still have all the stuff you have on your desk. I have to move, leave my second screen behind and peripherals like an external mouse.

Other ways to stand and work

If you don’t have a tall unit like the one I use and you don’t have a standing desk converter, you can use a box on a desk!  

 

Literally just a box on a desk. 

 

Or try picking up and heading into the kitchen to use the kitchen counter for 10 minutes either in your office or at home if you’re working remotely.

 

If you can’t move from your desk (i.e. because you have a desktop rather than a laptop) then consider other ways in which you can incorporate movement into your day. I’m no expert here, but I know someone who is, so I spoke to Damian Gilder, Personal Trainer, to ask about quick hacks to incorporate more movement. Here are some of his ideas:

  • Park further from the office than you usually do to work more walking in as a part of your day
  • Do squats or star jumps while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil at work
  • Make a point of getting up out of your chair during the working day at least once an hour. Even if you only go and get a glass of water
  • Stand up and stretch periodically throughout the . day

So, are standing desks worth it?

Standing is worth it. But it doesn’t mean you have invest hundreds (or more) into a fancy standing desk unless you want to.

 

I asked Damian again:

You don't need a standing desk to overcome the health risks of prolonged sitting. It's great if you can work on your feet but do it any way you can - a box, a kitchen unit, whatever! And there's more value in taking time away from the desk to move and stretch throughout the . day. Don't get hung up on expensive office equipment. It isn't essential to improve your health.

Damian Gilder, Personal Trainer Tweet

But if you’re going to get one…

Hey, don’t judge me. I like fancy office equipment. I don’t have a standing desk but might at some stage. I invested instead into a ping pong table to encourage more activity in breaks, which has been a winner. But if you (like me) might end up investing in standing equipment, it’ll certainly do you no harm.

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