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Standing Desk - Friend or Foe?

May 2018- by, Cody Heeter. Cody is certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).

CaseStudyBlog: Standing Desk Blog

Sitting is the new smoking?

You may want to stand up for this...sitting is the new smoking(?) The concept that “sitting is the new smoking” first appeared in the Harvard Business Review around 2013. Since then there have been numerous follow up media articles, research articles and even TED talks. Now, it is worth mentioning that many of these articles sensationalize their titles and/or misrepresent research in order to get “clicks”. One trend that has spawned from the concept that sitting is so terrible for us has been the idea of a standing desk or workstation. While the exact origins are unknown (at least to me!) the trend of standing up at work can be seen from Silicon Valley to grade school classrooms. But the question to ask is standing all day better than sitting? And what should you consider before ditching the chair?

The downside of sitting on your backside

Why has sitting gotten such a bad rap and is it truly as dangerous as smoking? In a simple answer, NO. Again, media outlets often sensationalize their headlines to grab your attention. Is sitting all day good for you? NO. With our daily travels and our email centric careers; we find that the average person spends about 9.3 hours per day sitting. When we sit, we do not move; when we do not move, our metabolism slows and our bodies begin to mold to our sitting position. From the top down, when we sit at a desk, we tend to push our head forward, round our shoulders, extend our arms and slump down in our chair. Our hips and knees stay fixed at 90 degrees and we rely on the chair to support our body weight. Staying in this position for extended periods of time may lead to back pain, shoulder pain, headaches, numbness in the hands or feet and “turns off” postural muscles such as the glutes, core and upper back. Some research indicates that even an hour of exercise each day is not enough to counteract the sedentarism we experience when we sit all day.

CaseStudyBlog: java

The upside of standing

So enter the standing desk revolution! Proponents of standing desks will state that over the course of the day, you will burn more calories standing than you will sitting. This is due to the increased muscular activity needed to support your standing body and the concept of NEAT (Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) or fidgeting and changing positions. Basically, the more you ask of your muscles, the more calories you will burn; although the increase is somewhat marginal. Standing up while working may also improve blood flow to your brain, which supports increased cognitive function and may improve productivity. Standing may also prevent a condition known as lower crossed syndrome, where the front of your hips (hip flexors) become short and tight and the back of your hips (glutes) become weak and stretched; leading to stiffness, back pain and muscle imbalances. Sounds like a win:win, but are there downsides?

The downside to your upside

As with many things in life, more is not always better! Yes, standing up has its benefits, but what are the costs? We often see the same postural compromises (head forward and shoulders rounded) after prolonged periods of standing as we see with sitting. Additionally, we see that people tend to shift their weight to one foot and use the desk as a “crutch” to keep them supported for long periods of work. And with all that standing, we still see people experiencing back pain or tightness and foot pain. Standing is a movement, so you cannot just stand for 8 hours on day one without consequences. As with any movement, progression is important!

Variability is key

While many will point out that a standing workstation is better than a traditional seated workstation, the key is getting as much variability as possible throughout the day. When you notice your posture beginning to suffer from standing, change your position. Sit for a little bit, go for a walk, or use a stool or step to strike a “Captain Morgan” pose. (Side note: traditional pubs will often have a foot rest attached to the front of the bar, allowing people to stand longer and hence buy more drinks!) Fidget, move around and change your position as much as possible to ensure you are not getting stuck in one position all day. Take a phone call while walking outside, stand in the back of the room during a meeting or presentation. Even kneeling at the conference room table (seems odd at first) is a unique way to not sit, but also not be the awkward person in the meeting; trust me, I know the feeling!

Considerations

Basic ergonomic rules still apply to standing desks as they do with seated desks. Maintain a neutral posture (ears in line with shoulders, upright torso) with your shoulders pulled back and down; elbows under your shoulders and wrists neutral. Make sure your monitor is at the same level as your eye and your keyboard and mouse are adjusted accordingly. Sit close enough or adjust your screen size to ensure you do not need to lean forward or squint to read the screen (might be a good time to visit the eye doctor!). When standing, try to keep your feet parallel and pointed forward, weight evenly distributed and think about squeezing your glutes periodically.

Anti-fatigue mats can help with comfort, especially when first starting out. Once accustomed, consider adding a ball, balance pad or half of a foam roller to allow you to change positions, massage your foot and stretch while working. Another popular trend with standing desks is to add a textured or rock mat to stand on while barefoot. The rocks provide additional sensory input into your neurological system and is just another way to add movement into your day (think reflexology).

There are many types of standing desks; from as simple as a desktop stand to an elaborate treadmill desk; some are fixed and some are adjustable. You can buy premade desks online, build one yourself or simply pile up a stack of books!

CaseStudyBlog: java

What if you do not have access to a standing desk?

So what do you do if you cannot afford a standing desk or if your office will not approve of the use? One place to start would be to seek approval for a desktop stand that allows you to raise the level of your monitor and keyboard and stand at your current desk. You could also petition your office to purchase a community standing desk for everyone to use for an hour or two each day. Speak with your peers to coordinate standing only meetings that are both productive and beneficial. Generally speaking, the message is to move. Take 1:1 walking meetings, kneel at your current desk, stand up at frequent intervals throughout the day and make an intent to limit the amount of chair time to as little as possible.

Recap

Standing desk...friend or foe? In my humble opinion; I say friend! But as with everything, I encourage you to consider the context and not throw out your chair just yet! Variety is key. Personally, I try to stand as much as possible, but I would not go as far as to say that sitting is equal to smoking. I will go through periods of sitting, kneeling, standing and walking throughout the day; depending on what work task I am trying to accomplish!


Cody Heeter has over 10 years of experience in the health and fitness industry. Cody oversees on-site fitness facilities, performance coaches and dietitians that deliver corporate wellness programming and support for clients across the US. Cody is certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) as a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS).

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