Phil Haberstro, founder and executive director of the Wellness Institute, has been invited to witness some odd health and fitness gimmicks in his day, many of them designed to help people stay in shape while working behind a computer screen. Since 2011, Haberstro has seen treadmill desks and elliptical machine desks. "I've [even] seen boardrooms stocked with stationary bikes around the table," he explained to Men's Fitness writer Bill Bradley.
The problem is, according to Haberstro, "Research shows that people who use treadmill desks -- or even those balancing balls that look so cool -- are finding that multitasking physical tasks [such as walking or balancing while typing] can be just as counterproductive as multitasking mental tasks."
Haberstro isn't alone in his belief that intense exercise and computer work are incompatible. PLOS ONE, a journal designed to accelerate the publication of peer-reviewed science, printed findings showing that it may take up to six months for a person to get accustomed to typing while walking on a treadmill. Until the six-month threshold is passed, production dips significantly.
Standing Desks Do More Than Burn Calories
The exercise component of standing desks is the most popular among most people interested in using one at the office. And the exercise component is certainly attractive.
But a standing desk is far more than a calorie burn.
Author of Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It, James Levine, MD, PhD, explains that a standing desk alone burns between 80 and 100 calories an hour. And that is not taking into account the possibility that a person may be more inclined to take a few minutes every hour or so to stretch or do some calisthenics.
But it isn't the potential weight loss that impressed Dr. Levine. Standing desks are healthy for far more important reasons. According to his book, sitting down hour after hour, day after day, decade after decade does irreparable damage to a person's body. Not only do a person's muscles atrophy and joints, ligaments and cartilage suffer but sitting in a chair for year after year also takes a tremendous toll on a person's internal organs.
Sedentary Lifestyle Is Not Healthy
Forbes journalist David DiSalvo has written several articles hailing the health benefits of standing desks, but his latest was a salvo on the negative things that can happen if a person sits too long each day. According to a DiSalvo, "For those of us who spend the majority of our working day in a desk chair, the news from health researchers the last few years has been decidedly bad."
Sitting can have a negative effect on muscles, joints, ligaments, posture, and even your internal organs. Furthermore, when you are sitting, your brain receives less oxygen. As a result of having less oxygen in your brain, while you are sitting you fatigue quicker, cannot concentrate as long, and -- studies have shown -- aren't as smart as you are when you're thinking on your feet (see more about the increase in neuro-cognative function when standing below.)
Balancing: Not Healthier Than Sitting
Even non-motion, exercise-while-working gimmicks like medicine balls are not particularly helpful at enhancing productivity and can even create health problems. Haberstro cites studies showing that a medicine ball creates the same slumped posture that leads to internal organ damage for those who sit in chairs.
The fact is, there is only one means of exercising while working behind a desk that both increasesproductivity and isn't a detriment to your health: standing.
Standing Desk: Tried and True
At first, standing behind a desk to work on a computer seemed alien, even to health experts. But the more people who try standing desks and the more popular they become, the more scientists are beginning to commit to research the notion of standing desks having health benefits. The results are not surprising. Standing desks are healthy.
What may surprise people who have yet to make the plunge is that standing desks also increase work productivity. And standing desks increase the productivity not only of people intent on proving they can exercise while working and remain substantial contributors in an office but also people without an agenda.
Standing Desks Increase Mental Capacity
In a pilot study conducted by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health on the neuro-cognitive benefits of standing-based school desks, researchers found that students' executive skills, "the cognitive skills we use to figure out the best way to tackle tasks and implement the steps to achieve objectives," increased if students were allowed to study on their feet.
And the test was not short-term. The test students used standing desks for an entire year. Both the test students and the baseline students -- those who used chairs in a classroom -- were tested twice a semester.
Standing Desk Is Second to None
While there are other exercise-while-working options, each one has a drawback. The exception is the standing desk. Standing desks burn calories, do not threaten posture and will not curb your work productivity.
They stand alone!
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