Standing desk ergonomics have gained popularity lately, with both employees and health professionals touting the many benefits of getting out of your chair. Are standing desks the miracle that their supporters think they are, or just another fad? In this article, we’ll look at both the pros and cons of sitting and standing desks, as well as a third option that might combine the best of both worlds.
The Good and Bad of Traditional and Standing Desks
Traditional (Seated) Desks: The Good News
Let’s face it—sitting is comfortable. But as we’ll see, the comfort comes at a price—and possibly more pain in the future.
Convenience and Cost
Most offices (including home offices) are outfitted with at least a chair and some type of seated desk, whereas implementing a standing desk option requires research time and money. Not just for the desk, either: to optimize the benefits of a standing desk, floor mats, and ergonomic mouse/keyboard and other accessories (including the somewhat confusing “standing desk chair”) may be necessary.
To Sit or Not To Sit…
While most human bodies are not designed for long periods of sitting, it’s better for some individuals to be seated most of the day. This includes pregnant women, people with varicose veins, and individuals with certain injuries. Consult your doctor if you have any concerns
Traditional Desk: The Bad News
Ok, time for the bad news: sitting for long periods of time not only contributes to muscle stiffness and back pain, but it’s also linked to serious conditions such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. Studies suggest that people who sit for long periods of time have a shorter average lifespan.
While the pain issues can often be minimized through the use of a more ergonomic chair and posture improvements, it won’t eliminate the long-term health risks caused by sitting. In fact nothing can—even exercising several hours a day won’t reverse the damage caused by regular, extended periods of sitting.
Standing Desks: The Good News
Less Pain, Less (Weight) Gain
Reducing your sitting time by just an hour per day has been shown to reduce upper back and neck pain by 54%, as well as improve overall posture and strengthening of the body’s core muscles.
While a standing desk won’t replace your daily workout, it may help keep you fit: standing burns 37 calories/hour more than sitting. It might not seem like a lot, but many users report losing up to five pounds in just the first week of changing to a standing desk.
Improvements in Energy & Mood
Health improvements from moving to a standing desk are not just physical, but mental as well. Users of standing desks often report feeling more energized and alert during the workday. This is likely because working on your feet requires less effort to get up and move around. Standing desk users also experience strong improvements in their mood while at work.
Many standing desk users find it easier to have direct communication with their co-workers, by seeing over cubicles and being able to make direct eye contact with people passing by. However, some employees also complain about the lack of privacy that this increased visibility can cause.
Standing Desk: The Cons
Form is Everything
Getting the most out of a standing desk requires proper alignment of both your workspace and your body. If your posture is off, you could be doing more harm than good. You can fix this by bringing in an ergonomics expert to set up desks and teach employees proper posture.
Standing impacts a different set of muscles, and standing all day (especially in the first couple weeks) will be tough on your feet and lower back. Foot pain is the most common complaint by new users of standing desks. This can be alleviated over time by wearing comfortable shoes, using a gel-filled floor mat and making sure that you don’t lock your knees when standing.
The Best of Both Worlds: Adjustable Workstations
Many experts feel that a combination of sitting and standing (alternating every 20 minutes, with a break to walk around every two hours) is the healthiest option, as it mimics the natural rhythm of human physical activity more closely.
This can most easily be achieved with an adjustable or wall-mount computer workstation, which allows users to raise and lower their desk for both standing and seated use.
While they can be a bit more expensive than traditional desks, think of standing or adjustable workstation desks as an investment in your workforce. They have been shown to increase productivity and lower absences stemming from injury and pain, as well as decrease chances for costly chronic illnesses in the future.