Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard someone talking about how great their new standing desk is. “Ever since I got this new standing desk, I could feel the health benefits immediately! My posture has gotten so much better and I have so much less pain!”
You’re probably tired of hearing them talk about it, but there may actually be some serious health benefits to standing at work instead of sitting at a desk. As a result, companies manufacturing standing desks are probably raking in money, especially considering some people pay thousands and thousands of dollars to get the very best in standing desk technology.
If you aren’t very keen on spending a year’s rent on a standing desk, you can easily make your own by simply elevating your computer monitor using a stack of books, a crate, or anything with a flat surface, really.
However, is standing all day at work really a good idea? Is the standing desk really the panacea that people make it out to be? Could there be some negative effects to being on your feet for your entire workday?
Before you invest all that money in a standing desk or invest your time in building one, let’s examine the pros and cons of standing while you work. There are certain people who believe in standing all day and others that believe in sitting all day. As with most things, the answer is somewhere in the middle.
The Consequences of Sitting All Day
Some have deemed sitting the new smoking. While that may sound extreme, there are some potential negative health consequences of spending too much time sitting.
Humans are built to stand upright most of the time. That’s what separates us from the knuckle-walking and tree-swinging hominids from which we evolved. Sitting too much, especially with poor posture, can lead to a compression in the discs of your spine, which can lead to chronic back pain.
Sitting too much has also been proven to cause your hip flexor muscles to shorten, which can cause hip joint problems later in life. That’s not all. Standing in an upright position has also been linked to improved digestive function, meaning that people who live sedentary lifestyles may have trouble with their bowel functions.
Sitting all day is potentially linked to a poor metabolic rate. So, you may find that you gain weight more easily if you spend too much time sitting.
On top of that, standing works the muscles in your legs. So, if you’re spending all day with your bum in a chair and your legs in a relaxed position, you may develop deterioration of your larger leg and gluteal muscles, which can eventually make you more prone to injury.
The Benefits of Standing Desks
So, it seems pretty clear that sitting all day is not the best thing for your health. A standing desk can reduce the amount of time you spend sitting during your work hours, giving you the opportunity to work from a computer in a standing position. In fact, there have been many studies that suggest standing at work can do wonders for certain aspects of your health.
In general, the more your blood sugar levels increase after you eat something, the worse it is for your health (especially for people who have insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes). Certain studies of office workers showed that standing in the time directly after eating a meal significantly reduced the blood sugar spike that occurs after eating. So, it’s no wonder that those who live overly sedentary lifestyles have a much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Standing during the day may also have a positive effect on your heart health. In a study that compared the heart health of bus conductors (who spent all day standing) compared to bus drivers (who spent all day sitting), those who spent their whole day standing had half the risk of dying from heart disease. Since then, certain studies have suggested that spending your whole day sitting may increase your risk of heart disease by nearly 150%.
There is even evidence to suggest that standing instead of sitting may help you to live longer (which makes sense given the link between sitting, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes). One study conducted in the United States showed that the average American could expand their life expectancy by a whole two years by reducing their sitting time to just three hours per day.
It’s Not Quite That Simple
From what you’ve already read, you’re probably ready to throw away every chair in your office and in your home. You’re going to start eating dinner standing up, standing while you binge your favorite Netflix shows, and figuring out a way to stand even when you go to the toilet. Well, as it turns out, that may not be a great idea.
New insight has come to light on the sitting-versus-standing debate as a result of a study published by The American Journal of Epidemiology. In their study, the Institute for Work & Health in Toronto compared the rates of heart disease in those who worked in sitting-heavy jobs (desk work) against those who worked in standing-heavy jobs (like clerks and cooks).
The result of the study was that people who spent more time standing actually had a greater risk of heart disease, which stood contrary to many of the other studies published on the subject.
The reason that people who stand a lot may have worse heart health is that, while in a standing position, blood pools up in the legs due to gravity, and the heart has to work harder to get it pumped back up to the higher parts of the body again. Thus, standing has also been linked to an increased risk of varicose veins and clogged arteries. So, perhaps standing all day is actually very bad for your health?
So, what’s the answer? Should you spend your whole day standing or keep your butt planted firmly in that chair? Well, the answer is that neither one is especially good for you. As with most things in life, it seems that taking the middle path is the best thing for your health.
While standing instead of sitting can have many positive effects in terms of reducing blood sugar spikes and possibly reducing your risk of type 2 diabetes, it’s probably best not to overdo it.
Standing at intervals several times a day is probably better for your heart health than sitting all day. However, when you stand too much, you’re probably making your heart and your legs work too hard.
The answer? If you spend most of your day sitting, make sure that you find some time to stand up, stretch your legs, and walk around. About 5-10 minutes of walking (even at a slow pace around your office) every 1-2 hours is probably enough to counteract the effects of sitting all day.
If your job requires you to spend long hours on your feet, make sure that you find some time throughout the day to sit down and give your body a break. In your case, the reverse is best: 5-10 minutes of sitting for every 1-2 hours of standing or moving.
The key is changing position and activity regularly to avoid the negative effects of both prolonged sitting and prolonged standing. Moderation, my dear friends, is the best medicine.