Stand Up for Health: How Standing Desks Can Save Your Life

It's true: Sitting is dangerous to your health. And standing desks may save you.

The Problem with Sitting

You've heard it all before—exercise is good for your health. Exercise helps lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other serious diseases. Not only is exercise good, new studies show that sitting all day is bad for your health. In fact, people who sit many hours a day have twice the rate of heart disease as people who don't sit for long hours. Plus, sitters are more likely to die of heart attacks, even if they exercise regularly.

In addition to heart disease, sitting for hours at a time increases the risk of diabetes; obesity; back, hip, and knee pain; neck problems; blood clots in your legs; unhealthy levels of cholesterol; and depression. Sitting may even contribute to colon cancer and other types of cancer. Overall, people who sit for six or more hours a day are at a higher risk of early death than those who don't.

Sitting is a very passive activity. When you sit your hands and lower arms may be moving, but the major muscles in your legs, torso, and buttocks aren't. Compared to standing, sitting burns one-third as many calories. Blood circulation and metabolism slow down when you sit, and your body partially shuts down.

Your brain slows down as well, making it harder to concentrate and get things done. Do you remember being scolded for "fidgeting" in school? That was your body trying to stay awake so you could pay attention. You may think sitting is relaxing, but it's actually very tiring.

How Standing Desks Solve the Problem

Even if your job ties you to a desk for most of the day you have options. You can look for a job that is less sedentary, but that's not realistic for most of us. Your other choice is to work at a standing desk, because a "desk" job doesn't have to be a "sitting" job.

Unlike sitting, standing is active; it's actually hard work to stand in one place. Engaging the muscles of your legs, back, shoulders, and buttocks—all of which happens when you stand—generates and uses energy. Shift from one leg to the other and rock back and forth and you're using even more energy, waking your whole body up.

A standing desk can be as simple as an elevated shelf or as sophisticated as a custom-designed piece of furniture. Ready-made standing desks fall somewhere in between these two extremes. A standing desk is at the right height when the top of the computer monitor is at or slightly below your eye level.

You can make your standing experience even more comfortable with a few simple accessories. A footstool or railing will allow you to shift your weight from one leg to the other, increasing blood flow. With a bar stool or draftsman's chair you can take sitting breaks while you work. A mat under your feet will reduce the stress on your legs.

Ergonomic keyboard trays such as The King attach to standing desks and provide maximum adjustability. You can change the height and tilt of the keyboard to make it comfortable for you and the tasks you are doing.

The Results

People who change from sitting to standing report more energy during the workday, with fewer afternoon dips. With improved blood circulation they are less tired at the end of the day. Their focus, concentration, and productivity improve. Standing also enhances attention span, clarity, and alertness. Because standing burns more calories than sitting, people lose weight when they switch to standing desks. They also tend to have less low back pain.

It takes a few days to adjust to a standing desk. But after you get used to it, you will feel better, with plenty of energy to enjoy the extra years you may be adding to your life.