Forget The Standing Desk; You Just Need To Move Regularly

Sitting at your desk all day is killing you whether or not you exercise, which is why so many people are building standing desks. But the ergonomics team at Cornell University points out that standing also has its problems. Their suggestion: Just make a point to get off your butt regularly.

Photo by ounelly70.

You already know how sitting is hurting you, but the folks at Cornell point out the perils of standing:

It dramatically increases the risks of carotid atherosclerosis (ninefold) because of the additional load on the circulatory system, and it also increases the risks of varicose veins, so standing all day is unhealthy. The performance of many fine motor skills also is less good when people stand rather than sit.

They also claim standing stations, like treadputers, decrease work performance. Much of their speculation depends on the type of work you do, but their bottom line suggestion is sensible, especially for those of us who aren't ready to switch to standing:

Sit to do computer work. Sit using a height-adjustable, downward titling keyboard tray for the best work posture, then every 20 minutes stand for 2 minutes AND MOVE. The absolute time isn't critical but about every 20-30 minutes take a posture break and move for a couple of minutes. Simply standing is insufficient. Movement is important to get blood circulation through the muscles. Research shows that you don't need to do vigorous exercise (e.g. jumping jacks) to get the benefits, just walking around is sufficient. So build in a pattern of creating greater movement variety in the workplace (e.g. walk to a printer, water fountain, stand for a meeting, take the stairs, walk around the floor, park a bit further away from the building each day).

It's hard to make blanket statements about workspaces (depending on the type of work you do, a standing desk might work just fine, and you may move around regularly while you're at your standing desk), but whether you choose to stand or sit, the most important thing is that you remember to move.

Sitting and Standing at Work [CU Ergo]


Comments

    "Atherosclerosis is a degenerative disease of the arteries resulting in plaques consisting of necrotic cells, lipids, and cholesterol crystals. These plaques can result in symptoms by causing a stenosis, embolizing, and thrombosing. Atherosclerosis is a diffuse process with a predilection for certain arteries"
    Bloody hell, stand,.. sit,.. either way your in the shit! Think I'll stick with standing though. My back doesn't hurt so much at the end of the day, since I stood up. I'll just keep wigglin and jigglin the way I've been doing it from the start! #]

    I switched to the standing desk earlier this year. No way am I switching back to a seated desk. My back appreciates it too much.

      Agreed #]

    "Downward tilting keyboard tray". Ugh, I hate those things. If I could get the one on my desk at work to actually sit level with my desk, then I'd be happy. But, it's always got to be a little lower, and so my knees keep banging into it and it makes me feel claustrophobic.

    I swear to god I'm fundamentally different to you people. My back has never hurt after sitting all day unless I do so in a truly bizarre position but I had almost constant back pain when I worked a standing job.

    I have a bad back, so id love to do a standing desk, but i cant stand for too long a time or my back/legs hurt, so when i get the money i want to get a monitor arm, and build a keyboard & mouse raiser so i can work standing up and sitting down pretty easily (alternately get a desk that converts, but with my track record of having a messy desk (a clean desk is the sign of a delusional mind) the stuff would fall off when raising it.

      If you have a condition that would be exacerbated, by standing, I understand. But if you don't, keep at it, I found it hard at first, even my knees were hurting pretty bad, but you do get used to it! So keep trying, I promise you will get used to it. I can't stand the thought of sitting down now! #]

        Oh, a big help is comfortable shoes..! #]

    I'm pretty sure I've commented on this before, but I'm sick of being handed a death sentence because I have a mobility disorder that prevents me from standing for very long without getting fatigued quite badly.
    The standing workspace phenomenon is pretty much condeming a demographic to an early grave because we CAN'T physically utilise a standing workspace. Is it tough luck? We're f*@#$ed? We were looking at an early grave anyway because of our starting position?

    This article gives me a bit of hope because I can practice these suggestions better than I can stand all day.

    I'd rather the best of both worlds. Use a standing desk with a high lift office chair. I can stand or sit depending on the work I'm doing or when my body tells me to swap.

    I agree with you that just replacing sitting all day with standing is not a good thing. As you point out the key to keeping healthy is movement. So regularly switching between sitting and standing makes a lot of sense.

    Paying attention to what your body is telling you i.e. pain or discomfort, is the best prompt for movement and a change of posture.

    Hmm, they didn't see fit to cite their claims on that page, but I found what might have been their source for the "ninefold" increase in risk of carotid atherosclerosis.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10901115 is an abstract of a paper on the subject that goes into more detail. The ninefold difference in increase of carotid intima media thickness was seen only in men with heart disease, ranging from an increase of 0.08 mm for those who don't stand at all to 0.75mm in those who mostly stand.

    For those without any heart conditions (or maybe those with and without), they calculated a mean increase of 0.24mm for those who never stand vs. a 0.33 mm increase in those who mostly stand. Notable, but not nearly as much of a difference.

    Using their methodology, I could also conclude that those without chronic ischemic heart disease who sit all the time (at 0.24mm increase) are three times as likely to develop carotid atherosclerosis compared to people with heart disease (at 0.08mm). But that would be silly.

    That's not to say that the entire point is invalidated, and I'm not surprised that always standing trades one set of risks for another, but they do seem to be misinterpreting the data in a rather sensational manner.

    Completely agree with the article - getting up from your desk regularly, even for a few moments, is vital when using a computer for long period. Moving around in your chair is also useful, as is making sure you don't spend long periods in bad postures (or even sitting fixed in a good one). Some people swear by standing desks, but let's face it, it's going to be a long time before most employers will even consider providing them.

    I had several annoying episodes of low level back pain through sitting in poor postures at work. The crazy thing was, I knew exactly how I should sit - but every time I resolved to sit like that or to take breaks, I'd go back to concentrating on my work and an hour or two later I'd be back in my bad old posture.

    I've spent the last 5 years researching and developing an award-winning webcam-based tool called PostureMinder that automatically detects your posture and, if you sit in a damaging posture for a lengthy period (or even sit fixed in a good posture without moving) it provides a friendly reminder. The key point is it's not constantly interrupting your work or trying to get you to sit in a fixed posture - it only reminds you when you sit fixed for a period of time.

    It also incorporates other tools for healthy working, such as break reminders and a hydration diary.

    I'd be really interested in working with the Cornell group on this as we continually improve our software in light of new research and user feedback.

    There's a free 30-day trial download on our website, and I'd encourage anyone who suffers back pain, neck pain or RSI, or who is just concerned about their posture, to give it a try for free.

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