Sedentary behavior has been associated with increased cardiovascular disease and overall mortality.
Work is one of the leading causes of increased sedentary behavior in modern times. Standing desks have been found to reduce sitting times and provide a variety of health benefits to workers.
When buying a standing desk, you should keep in mind its adjustability, weight capacity, surface area, and overall quality. This guide will walk you through standing desk features and standing desk best practices.
As more evidence of the risks of prolong sitting come to light, new products have emerged to encourage people to be more active throughout the day—at work, home, or school. In the workplace setting, standing desks have become increasingly popular among knowledge workers.
This isn’t too surprising, considering that computer work is among the leading activities that lead to sedentary behavior in the workplace.
“Evidence is accumulating that sedentary behavior might be associated with increased cardiovascular-specific and overall mortality. Insufficient physical activity predicts premature cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality and disease burden.”
While previously people associated sedentary behavior with lack of physical activity, the 2016 advisory argues that even those that engage in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can also be considered sedentary if they spend a significant amount of time sitting without taking a break.
“Those who spent more time in MVPA had similar sedentary time to those who were less physically active (mean sedentary time 472 minutes per day vs 489 minutes per day [7.9 hours per day versus 8.2 hours per day]),7 which suggests that MVPA might not displace sedentary time.”
The Rise of Sedentary Behavior
Sitting—for prolonged periods of time without a break—is bad for our health. And yet, data has found that sedentary behavior has dramatically increased from the 1960s.
The AHA advisory found that:
Sedentary occupations in the US have increased from ≈15% in 1960 to >20% by 2008.
The average sedentary time increased from 26 hours per week in 1965 to 38 hours in 2009 in the US; and from 30 hours per week in 1960 to 42 hours per week in 2005 in the UK.
But the issue of sedentary behavior is a global one.
A World Health Organization (WHO) report published in 2018 found that more than a quarter of adults were insufficiently physically active in 2016. The report found that “the largest increased in insufficient physical activity have occurred in high-income countries.”
Combating Sedentary Behavior in the Workplace
The AHA advisory states that 3 or more hours of uninterrupted sitting reduce vascular function; however, 5-minute bouts of light walking at regular intervals can prevent this decline.
More importantly, the advisory argues that “the built environment could play a role in promoting some sedentary behaviors or discouraging other health-enhancing behaviors such as physical activity.”
Side note: sedentary behavior was already a concern prior to COVID-19 outbreak. Recent studies have found a significant decrease in physical activity levels during the coronavirus pandemic. With workers commuting less to work and working from home (a mere steps away from their bedrooms), sitting times have dramatically increased among workers.
Considering work is one of the leading causes of sedentary behavior, changes to the workplace environment can help encourage workers to take a break from sitting. This is important, considering that self-report measures of workplace sedentary behavior appear to be less accurate, as people underestimate the time they spend sitting at work.
Ways to Combat Sedentary Behavior in the Workplace
A report from AJ Products (UK) and ukactive found that workplace design interventions can reduce sitting times by as much as 40 minutes over an 8-hour work day, which translates to an 8% reduction in overall sitting time.
Below are some strategies that can help reduce sitting times while at work:
Invest in standing desks or treadmill desks
Encourage the use of stairs vs elevators
Encourage workers to take regular breaks throughout the work day
Encourage walking meetings.
Let’s take a closer look at standing desks, and why they’re a popular choice among workers worldwide.
“Short-term use of a feasible sit-stand workstation reduced daily sitting time and led to beneficial improvements in cardiometabolic risk parameters in asymptomatic office workers. These findings imply that if the observed use of the sit-stand workstations continued over a longer duration, sit-stand workstations may have important ramifications for the prevention and reduction of cardiometabolic risk in a large proportion of the working population.”
Physical Benefits of Standing Desks
Burn more calories
You burn more calories standing up than you do sitting down. By burning more calories, you can:
Reduce weight gain
Reduce risk of becoming overweight
Reduce risk of becoming obese.
One study found that by switching from a regular to a standing desk, workers burned an extra 174 calories in an afternoon. That’s an extra 870 calories during a 5-day workweek.
Reduce Lower Back Pain
In the US, back pain accounts for about one fourth of workers’ compensation claims. While ergonomic chairs and desks help, there are two main things that contribute to back pain:
Standing desks can help improve posture—when used correctly—and they can reduce the amount of time spent sitting, which could reduce lower back pain.
A 2014 study concluded that “Transitioning from a seated to a standing work posture every 30 min across the workday, relative to seated work, led to a significant reduction in fatigue levels and lower back discomfort in overweight/obese office workers.”
A more recent study, from 2016, found that workers with access to sit-stand workstations experienced a “significant reduction” in current and worst low back pain.
Standing is good for us, and it helps build muscle strength. According to experts, standing exercises muscles in our abdomen, butt, and legs.
Strong muscles can:
Reduce risk of injury
Reduce aches and pains
Improve Blood Flow
Standing up—and more importantly moving—can help improve blood flow. When standing, especially if you stretch your legs, raise your heels, or engage in other movements squeezes the valves in the leg veins, which improves blood flow.
Improved blood flow can help improve productivity and reduce sluggishness.
Help You Live Longer
A study published in 2010 concluded that standing may help people live longer. Those who sat for more than 6 hours during the day were 40% more likely to have died over a 14-year-old period.
Another study found that the estimated gains in life expectancy in the US population were 2.00 years for reducing excessive sitting to less than 3 hours a day.
Mental Health Benefits of Standing Desks
Standing improves blood flow by stimulating circulation. Improved blood flow improves alertness and focus, which means our energy and productivity levels are positively impacted as well.
Because standing also helps reduce lower back pain and other common aches, we are less likely to be distracted by them, which means we can better focus on our tasks at hand.
Research has also linked sedentary behavior to increased stress, anxiety, and depression levels—all of which affect our overall energy and mood.
Finding the Right Standing Desk for You
If you’re thinking about buying a standing desk for yourself, you may find the process overwhelming:
There are so many options to choose from.
Companies that offer standing desk products include:
Depending on the brand you pick and the features you’re looking for, you can expect to pay anywhere between $150 to upwards of $2,000.
Things to Consider When Purchasing a Standing Desk
This is probably the most important feature you should consider.
Your standing desk should be highly adjustable, meaning that you should be able to adjust the height of the monitor arm and the keyboard surface.
In this sense, the wider the range of adjustment that a standing desk offers, the better.
You want to make sure that the standing desk you pick can be raised high enough so that your monitor reaches your eye level.
Pro tip: make sure that your standing desk can be adjusted quickly and easily.
While more expensive isn’t necessarily better, going for the cheapest option might also not be the best idea.
While there’s an ample gap between the cheapest and most expensive standing desks, there are some great mid-range options.
Your budget will likely impact the features and materials of a standing desk. But keep the following in mind: a standing desk is a long-term investment, and the long-term benefits of using one are well worth the splurge.
Not all standing desks are created equally. This is especially true when it comes to weight limits.
Whichever desk you pick, you need to make sure that it will be able to hold the weight of all of your equipment.
Specifically, you want to focus on the depth of the desk. If you generally require a large footprint to get your work done, then search accordingly. Most experts recommend at least 30 inches of depth.
If you only need your laptop and enough space for a notebook and pen, then you can look at standing desks with a smaller footprint.
Bear in mind that standing desks come in all shapes and sizes; the most common shapes are rectangular and L-shaped.
Multi-level standing desks allow users to maximize their office space.
Again, depending on your equipment and work needs, you may benefit from purchasing a tiered standing desk that allows for your monitor(s) and keyboards to have their own space to keep an optimal standing position at all times.
Ease of Use
Ideally, you’ll find a standing desk that is easy to assemble, easy to move around, and easy to adjust.
This is especially true if you will be using a standing desk in a shared setting—if you will share the desk with others, then you may want to invest in a standing desk that can be adjusted in a matter of seconds.
Another thing you’ll want to consider is if the standing desk can be easily collapsed and stowed away (this may be of particular interest for those who work from home and have limited space).
Materials and Quality
Standing desks are not cheap, which is why you need to make sure that the one you buy offers good quality materials.
Are the materials it is made of durable? Are its parts durable?
Some things to keep in mind:
Plastic does not last as long as other materials like wood or metal.
Look into the warranty
Purchase only from a reputable source
Is the desk structurally sound?
If you are hoping to buy a standing desk for a shared workspace area and different people will use the desk on a regular basis, then you will want to pick a desk that allows for multi-user settings.
Some electric motor operated standing desks allow for settings to be saved. If you are considering a standing desk that uses an electric motor with push-buttons, then you’ll want to take into consideration the amount of noise the motor makes.
This boils down to personal preference. Depending on the room you are planning to put the desk in and the decoration present in the room, you’ll likely want to pick a standing desk that easily matches the rest of the space.
Who Should Use a Standing Desk?
Well, certainly everyone that typically works in a traditional desk stands to benefit from a standing desk (pun intended).
However, a standing desk may not be a wise investment for people that tend to work from a variety of locations, or people who are on a tight budget.
The following people are most likely to benefit from regular use of a standing desk:
Health-conscious knowledge workers
Flexible workspace members
Professionals that work from home.
Standing Desk Best Practices
Just as prolonged sitting is detrimental to our health, prolonged standing can also have negative effects on our wellbeing.
To truly reap the benefits of a standing desk, consdier the following best practices.
Take It Slow
If you recently purchased a standing desk and are eager to start using it, make sure to take it slow. Don’t make the mistake of using it too much, too soon, as that can lead to exhaustion and body aches, which may demotivate you to use it on a regular basis.
Rather than using it for hours at a time in your first week, consider building up your endurance to it in increments. Start by using it 10 minutes at a time and then building up in increments of five minutes.
A standing desk should not be a replacement to your regular workstation; rather, it should be a complement to it. Therefore, you should alternate between sitting and standing throughout your work day.
Sometimes we go through our days in automatic mode. If you have an especially busy or stressful week, you may even forget to use your new standing desk.
For this reason, consider setting reminders throughout the work day to use your standing desk. You can use it for a few minutes in the morning and a few in the afternoon.
You can set your reminder on your phone, smart watch, laptop, tablet, or desktop.
Don’t Just Stand There
While standing, in and out of itself, is better than sitting; you should aim to keep your body moving. With this in mind, consider incorporating small movements and stretches while you are using a standing desk.
Some ways to incorporate movement while using a standing desk are:
Knee bend squats
Marching in place
Alternating knee bends
Other than leg movements and stretches, you can also easily incorporate:
Neck and shoulder rolls
Crossbody arm stretches
Side to side twists.
Even the smallest of movements will help with blood flow and can prevent soreness from happening.
Good Posture Is Key
To truly benefit from using a standing desk, you need to ensure that you are maintaining proper posture at all times.
Desk adjustability is key to this.
Below are some tips:
Keep your monitor at eye level
Keep your keyboard roughly at the height of your belly button
Avoid hunching over
Avoid leaning to one side
Keep your back straight and aligned
Keep your shoulders back
Evenly distribute your weight across your feet.
Use the Right Shoes
If you are regularly wearing heels to work, then you may want to have an extra pair of shoes handy for when you want to use a standing desk.
You want to make sure that you are using comfortable shoes, like sneakers, whenever you are using a standing desk.
You’ll likely want to use shoes that have good cushion, enough arch support, and a firm sole.
Take Regular Breaks
Just as with sitting, it’s important to take regular breaks when using a standing desk.
Taking a break can not only relieve some of the pressure on specific muscle groups, but it can also help clear your mind, improve focus, and rest your eyes.
Just as you can set reminders to use your standing desk, you can set reminders to take a break whenever you are using it.
Manage Your Cables
If you use a variety of devices that require power cables, then you need to be mindful of your setup.
Afterall, you don’t want to unintentionally pull power cables for a couple of reasons:
Devices might shut off before you get a chance to save your work or while in an important meeting.
You don’t want your devices to fall of your standing desk because of a pulled cabled.
Consider the Timing
While you can really use a standing desk at any time during the day, you may find it extra beneficial to use your standing desk after your lunch break.
Not only can it help battle the post-lunch slump, it can also aid digestion and help burn some of the calories. People that suffer from reflux or heartburn are likely to benefit the most from using a standing desk after eating.
Consider Your Accessories
If your budget allows for it, consider investing in standing desk accessories. The right accessories can help make the standing desk experience much more comfortable, enjoyable, and, overall, more beneficial.
Some popular accessories you might want to consider include:
Standing desk anti-fatigue mat
Ergonomic, active seating standing desk chair
Dual monitor stand
Cable management system
Under desk treadmill
Sedentary behavior poses many risk for us. Knowledge workers that spend the majority of their day working on a laptop or computer are at an increased risk of engaging in prolonged sitting.
Workplace environment and design elements can help reduce sedentary behavior. One such strategy is to incorporate standing desks into the workplace—whether it’s a corporate office, flexible workspace, or a home office.
Standing desks offer many benefits, including:
Increased calorie burning
Improved blood flow
Improved muscle strength
Increased life expectancy
Reduced back pain.
Are standing desks worth it?
Yes, standing desks offer many benefits to users, including: reduced lower back pain, improved blood flow, improved productivity.
How much does a standing desk cost?
Depending on features, you can expect to pay between $150 to upwards of $2,000.
What are the benefits of a standing desk?
Burn more calories, reduce lower back pain, strengthen muscles, improve blood flow, reduce stress on neck and shoulders, keep muscles from getting tight, better concentration, higher productivity.
Are standing desks better than sitting?
Yes, standing is generally more beneficial than sitting.
Will a standing desk help my lower back pain?
Yes, studies have shown that standing desks can help reduce lower back pain.