Standing Desks: How Sitting Is The New Smoking

Standing Desks: How Sitting Is The New Smoking
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Sitting, it’s becoming fashionable to note, is the “new smoking”. Sedentary behaviour dominates modern life, just as smoking did some decades ago. And the health risks posed by prolonged sitting are making it frowned upon, just as smoking is.

Woman at desk image from Shutterstock

A growing body of research suggests too much sitting increases the risk of developing diseases including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It may even cause premature death. The good news is that being physically active offers some protection against the harms of sitting; research shows standing or replacing sitting time with the activities of daily living (such as housework, gardening, or walking) could reduce the health risks posed by too much sitting.

But that’s no excuse to stop exercising: adults should limit their daily sitting time and break up prolonged periods of sitting, in addition to regular physical activity, for better health and well-being. In other words, reducing sitting time won’t replace the well-established health benefits of regular moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, such as brisk walking, running, cycling or dancing.

The health risks linked to prolonged periods of sitting are particularly pertinent to people with largely sedentary jobs, such as office workers. And a growing number of people are getting standing desks in response to the increasing knowledge about the harms of their sedentary lifestyles.

Standing desks, or sit-stand contraptions, are an effective way for office workers to incorporate more standing into their workday. But can you transition to standing at work without causing yourself harm and injury? Of course you can, although there are some precautions that will ensure you not only avoid injury but also stick to standing in the long term.

Tips for healthy standing

Before you start, please note that the usual ergonomic set-up considerations apply to your new work area. Table height, monitor level, monitor distance from eyes, wrist and arm positioning, and posture all have to be right to prevent physical discomfort and injury. Make sure to adjust your workstation so that it’s safe for you when working in both the seated and standing positions.

Once you’re all set up, here are five things to keep in mind.

Ease yourself into it

Like embarking on a new exercise routine, you’ll probably notice some discomfort in your body and muscles as you start to work in a standing position. Start standing for short periods of time and gradually build up that time as you get used to it.

Be aware that too much standing could increase your chances of musculoskeletal problems, such as back pain, and varicose veins. Many people experience physical discomfort as a result of sitting at their desks for hours on end; standing might mean the site of discomfort changes.

Try different routines to find what works for you

Some people like to alternate between sitting and standing based on their work tasks (standing to check emails and read documents, for instance, and sitting down to write notes or type documents). Others prefer to change posture based on the time of day (standing first thing in the morning for instance, or after lunch) or for set periods of time, such as every one or two hours.

You may find that you don’t like any particular routine and prefer to stand or sit to work depending on how you feel.

Wear comfortable shoes or take off your shoes when standing up

Standing on an anti-fatigue mat may help to mitigate sore feet, and some people keep an extra pair of comfortable shoes in the office for when they’re standing to work. Standing in high heels all day is probably not the best option.

Don’t feel pressured

If you feel tired or fatigued when standing up to work, sit down and rest your legs. If you’ve been standing in the same position for a while, it might help to go for a quick stroll. Changing postures or going for a walk allows your body to release muscle tension after you’ve been in a static sitting or standing posture.

You don’t have to stand alone

Get your colleagues involved and normalise standing in your workplace. Together, you can build a work environment that supports its staff members to stand up at work.

Not an option?

People who don’t have the option of a standing desk – or those who just don’t want to stand at work – need not despair. Here are five easy ways to sit less and move more during your workday, without hacking your regular desk.

Have regular breaks

Take time to look away from the computer screen or whatever you are doing, and maybe stretch, even if only for a minute or two. Try taking a break every 30 minutes or once every hour. If you’re someone who loses track of time when you’re in the middle of a task, there are myriad apps to remind you to stop and take a break.

Look for opportunities that allow you to stand and work

Try standing up when using the phone. Find a surface that’s standing height, such as a tall filing cabinet, and use it as a standing desk to do certain bits of work. Stand up during meetings or teleconferences, and invite other attendees to join you for the meeting upstanding.

Move away from your desk

Use the bin, printer, or bathroom that’s farther away from your desk. Walk to talk to your colleagues instead of sending them emails or calling.

Walk and talk

For small meetings involving perhaps two or three people, try having a walking meeting outside. Take a small notebook and a pen to jot down notes while you are on the go, if necessary. You may find that it helps the meeting go quicker too.

Take the stairs

Climb one or more floors instead of taking the elevator, and get your heart pumping a bit before settling into your chair. In fact, climbing stairs is similar in intensity to cycling or jogging, which are around eight times the body’s resting metabolic rate, or the amount of energy the body uses when resting or sleeping.

And here’s a bonus tip: drink more water. Not only will you stay hydrated, but you’ll need to visit the water source – and probably the bathroom – more often too.

Josephine Chau, Research Fellow in Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour, University of Sydney and Lina Engelen, Research Fellow in Physical activity and workplace health, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


  • This is just… not really an option for me at all – and I work from home a lot of the time! Firstly, everything on my desk has been designed for me to sit at it. My keyboard is tilted the right way, monitors are facing towards me at the right angle and my compendium is at my left for me to write notes. I sit at my desk from 8:00am until 4:30pm with the occasional break for a drink and something to eat.

    I tried standing just then and my arms do not reach my keyboard so I need to lean down or finally learn how to use my PC’s touchscreen. My back begins to hurt and when I go to write down a note I need to find something to lean on even though my desk is right in front of me.

    After 30 minutes my back, legs and shoulders are killing me. I sit back down into my properly supported leather armchair with lumbar function and immediately feel better. This was probably the most ridiculous thing I’ve done.

  • Wasn’t this debunked on a gizmodo article or something? (Edit: Ah, yes… yes it was.)

    From what I gathered, it seems standing all day is the same as sitting because after you get comfortable in your standing routine you’re still not making a concentrated effort to raise your heart rate through physical activity. So it’s not so much ‘sitting’ that’s killing you, since standing will also kill you just as fast if you aren’t making a conscious effort to move around a lot…

    “Our study overturns current thinking on the health risks of sitting and indicates that the problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself,” study author Melvyn Hillsdon of the University of Exeter said in a statement. “Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing.”

    Aha! OK, researchers… FIGHT!

    Waitaminute… following the links from the competing articles to the journals themselves indicates that some of the same authors were involved in both studies! Was this as affiliates only, one citing from the other? NOOOO TOO MUCH FACT-CHECKING RESEARCH FOR THIS HOUR OF DAY SOMEONE PLEASE JUST TELL ME WHAT TO BELIEVE

  • OK so that’s twice in the last week. Can you show actual images of people employing good posture at their standing desks, rather than people stooped over a desk at regular level? It’s kind of misleading.

    A guy in my office has this cool, variable height jobbie. His monitors, keyboard and work surface raise when he wants it raised. I can just imagine the situation at home though… he has to leave the standing desk lowered in case his wife wants to use it.

  • I definitely think that sedentary behaviour is an issue that workers and students need to be more aware of. The effects of such are hugely impactful and there’s such simple ways to prevent it. It’s not even about necessarily having a standing desk, it’s more so about getting physical activity into a routine and having your heart rate increase consistently throughout the day. Taking the stairs is definitely a good idea or having a walking meeting.

  • Whether it’s sitting or standing desk, I think the key to being healthier in the office is regular movement. Taking breaks to get water, go to the bathroom or talk to colleagues is a great excuse to get up and out of your desk. Standing meetings are also a great way to encourage active productivity.

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