Healthy Living

Standing Desks, Friend Or Foe? What Happened When I Stood At Work For The Last 4 Months

standing
A standing desk can be uncomfortable — but the discomfort of standing is outweighed by its benefits. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

I had been talking to my co-workers about wanting a standing desk for weeks. The thought that it would help me deal with the monotony of work strongly appealed to me, but my fellow writers mostly laughed at me.

Then one day earlier this year, completely out of the blue, a standing desk mysteriously arrived in our office. It was delivered directly to Chris’s desk, though he had never ordered one. After exchanging baffled looks and giggles, we assembled it for kicks and passed it around the office for everyone to try — but most people grew bored quickly, complaining about backaches and feet pain. So the miracle standing desk was given to me, and I kept it for over four months.

My Experience

Though heavy, the standing desk was easy to maneuver; I placed both of my monitors and keyboard on top, then was able to adjust it appropriately at different heights. If I ever felt like going back to a sitting position, I could just pull it back down to the correct height.

A few things happened to me when using the standing desk. Firstly, within 15 minutes of standing, I began to notice I was a lot more focused and productive. I was less likely to mindlessly check Facebook or click random articles — in part due to the fear that more people could see my screen and view my not-work-related doings, and partially because I was simply more “in the zone” while standing. It’s difficult to figure out why exactly, but my focus was sharper. The change in my concentration when sitting back down was instantaneous: I immediately felt more sluggish, foggy-headed, and seemed to forget my next tasks more quickly. Sitting may be more “comfortable,” but it was mentally draining. This could in part explain that “zombie” feeling of sitting in front of a computer all day; the standing desk made me feel more awake and alert.

I also began to feel less stiff throughout the day and after work. After sitting for eight hours, my body seems to calcify into a stiff and lethargic state, which only makes me want to go home and lie in bed or continue being inactive. Peppering my day with bouts of standing and walking gave me a boost of energy and surprisingly relaxed my muscles, and made it easier for me to be active and go for walks throughout the day.

Yes, it’s true that standing for a long time can be a little uncomfortable — my back would ache a bit, and I’d often stand in 30-minute or one-hour spurts before giving myself a break. But I began to find that sitting for a while after standing periodically felt a lot less sedentary. Standing helped make sitting feel more productive. Sitting began to feel what sitting is supposed to feel like: taking a break from activity. It was all about finding a balance.

The Perils Of Sitting: Something Of A Death Trap

With all the research coming out about the death trap of constantly sitting, it’s easy to place the blame of a draining, unmotivated existence on sedentary habits. After all, humans were built to move and to be active; we come from a long line of hunters, gatherers, farmers, and builders, where most of daily bread-earning came from the fruits of physical actions. Work was tangible and tactical before the Information Age. Yet today, most Americans sit up to 12 or more hours a day. An average commute to work likely involves sitting in some capacity, whether in a car or train — and office jobs are notorious for turning you into a slumped-over zombie staring at a screen with glazed eyes.

In recent years, a large number of studies have surfaced that claim sitting can raise the risk of death significantly, as well as your chances of developing heart disease, cancer, and muscular degeneration, as well as obesity and diabetes. This Washington Post graphic, for example, shows exactly how bad posture while sitting can impact our organs, spine, muscles, and brain.

Being sedentary all day will reduce our metabolism, which is ultimately what makes you more tired and slows down the removal of fat from your blood stream. “There’s a consistent association between sitting and health,” Peter Katzmarzyk, associate executive director for population science at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, told The Huffington Post. “We’re not designed to be sedentary. Sitting disrupts blood sugar levels, lowers the breakdown of harmful cholesterol and reduces calorie burning.”

Sitting has been linked to a higher risk for heart attacks, cardiovascular disease, bad cholesterol, high blood pressure, belly fat, and obesity. Even if you work out every day, that short spurt of muscle movement and aerobic exercise isn’t enough to save you from the perils of sitting: something more has to be done to reverse the American epidemic of obesity, idleness, and huge food portions.

Is Standing Just As Bad As Sitting?

But standing for eight hours straight every day can still be tough on your legs, as restaurant workers, nurses, and factory workers all know too well. A 2005 study found that prolonged standing at work could lead to varicose veins, which are large, twisted veins that usually appear in your legs. Though they’re often harmless, they can lead to pain, blood clots, or skin ulcers. Your back and legs might be sore after a day of standing if you’re not in the correct posture.

But these issues are far less dangerous than the myriad of chronic disorders that idleness can cause. Research has shown that exercise can work against pretty much every single disease and condition out there, from Alzheimer’s and mental illness, to heart disease, to cancer. Exercise and physical activity is the single best cure and way to prevent pretty much everything. Don’t take it lightly. Though a standing desk may not increase your heart rate, standing can burn calories, sharpen your focus, and make you more likely to bounce up and take frequent walks during work. Having higher energy levels will also encourage you to exercise before or after work.

If you’re looking to invest in a standing desk, opt for one that is flexible and adjustable. This way, you can easily move the desk back down to a seated position, so you can quickly take breaks from standing when needed. You also might have to adjust some other things while using a standing desk, such as avoiding high heels and instead opting for soft-soled shoes that provide good support.

Think of the standing desk as a trigger for a better lifestyle: an alarm clock of sorts that brings you to your feet and prepares you to tackle your work, a first step to becoming more physically active. All this standing desk business certainly made me appreciate sitting far more — and that's probably not a bad thing.

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