The Benefits of Working at a Standing Desk

happy woman enjoying the benefits of a standing deskStanding during your workday offers a number of benefits. Most fundamentally, it honors your human heritage. Your human body simply wasn’t designed to sit. We are mobile creatures, designed to navigate the world in a vertical posture. Standing is the quickest way to get back to our naturally active ways.

The Benefits of Standing

Standing isn’t the be-all and end-all of your sitting problem (more on this below), but it sets in motion several beneficial processes that help both mind and body.

Among the many benefits of standing:

Fight Sitting Disease

A surprising number of serious medical conditions can result from sitting too much. And you can’t exercise your way out of this problem. Just as you can’t undo the hazards of cigarette smoking by jogging, you can’t undo the consequences of being sedentary all day by exercising after work. Getting up off your derriere with a standing desk offers an obvious way to break up your sedentary work day. Specifically, standing at work can:

  • Activate your metabolism, reducing your risk of metabolic syndrome and Type 2 diabetes
  • Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduce your risk of cancer
  • Reduce your risk of “all-cause mortality” (that is, your risk of dying of any cause)

Reduce Pain

The human body wasn’t designed for sitting. When you sit for long periods, your body barks and snarls in pain. One glaring example: Low-back pain is almost unknown among hunter-gatherer cultures but affects 80% of people in modern sitting-oriented cultures.

Lose Weight

Some of the earliest sitting-disease research was conducted by James Levine, an obesity researcher at the Mayo Clinic. He showed that the simple act of standing as opposed to sitting burned more calories. He later discovered that providing a setting that is conducive to standing also resulted in more routine movement throughout the day, which burns even more calories.

Improve Muscle and Bone Health

Muscles that aren’t used will atrophy. And bones that aren’t challenged with regular movement and other good stressors can develop osteoporosis. Standing periodically throughout your work day puts more of your muscles to work and keeps your bones from adapting to the shape of your chair.

Give Cues for Further Movement

Simply standing up can promote even more movement. Pioneering sitting-disease researcher James Levine says, “We’ve discovered that once you’re up, you tend to move.”

Improve Your Mood

When they first start standing at work, many people notice an immediate improvement in their mood. And these anecdotal reports have now been validated in a number of scientific studies.

Boost Your Productivity

Some managers worry that productivity will suffer when their employees stand. To the contrary, standing actually improves engagement, concentration, and alertness, resulting in better work productivity. In addition, you’re less likely to miss work due to back or neck pain if you regularly work at a standing desk.

Your Recommended Daily Allowance of Standing

How much do you need to stand to get these benefits? In 2015, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published the first comprehensive review of the scientific evidence on how to best address sedentary behavior in the office. They recommend “accumulating at least 2 hours per day of standing and light activity (light walking) during working hours, eventually progressing to a total accumulation of 4 hours per day.”

One of the authors of that BJSM review, Cornell University ergonomist Alan Hedge, recommends a 20-8-2 regimen: 20 minutes sitting (in good posture), 8 minutes standing, and 2 minutes moving in each half hour of your office work day. Other well-informed experts have recommended simply standing up from your desk every 20 to 30 minutes.

Any coverage of the benefits of standing must also address its hazards. Just as there are good reasons not to sit all day, there is a lot of evidence that excessive standing can cause problems. Research on warehouse assembly workers, highway toll takers, and others in upright professions has linked prolonged standing to conditions ranging from varicose veins and ankle swelling to foot pain and muscle fatigue. So most people won’t want to stand all day.

These benefits and hazards both highlight that the real problem is inactivity. Whether your job is biased toward sitting or standing, you will benefit from moving more during your work day. If you have a traditional sitting-centric office job, a standing desk is the best way to get you moving.