If you live a largely sedentary life – sitting in the office in front of the computer for most of your working hours and then going home and sitting in front of the television on a couch, not to forget sitting during your home-work commute – you are sedentary. And sitting too much or for too long is associated with numerous health risks.
While it would seem that you can change your seating habits at home, it may be difficult to do so at the office.
The health risks associated with sitting too long
It may seem comfortable to sit, but that is because most people are simply used to sitting in today’s day and age. In many tribal and traditional cultures no chairs are even used. People simply squat on the floor or at floor level when they need to sit. This automatically exercises the joints and makes the human body more flexible. Of course, people used to sit on rocks and flat projections, but there were no formal chairs. In fact, sitting is part of the civilized western culture that has slowly spread globally, though the first chair was probably invented in ancient Egypt.
And there are many known health risks associated with sitting for long periods. Among them is an increased risk of
Colon, endometrial and breast cancers
Muscle strain, particularly of the shoulders and neck
Reduced bone density
Decreased life span
Of course all these problems are not just due to sitting for long as there are a number of factors in play when you get any physical or psychological disorder, but studies have shown that sitting for long is a contributory cause.
In fact sitting for long is so bad for you that its negative effects are not dissipated by increased exercise time.
Is it possible to stand and work?
You may well think that it is difficult to stand and do work. Actually many careers and professions require standing and movement. If you consider factory workers, construction workers, doctors and surgeons, chefs, kitchen staff, waiters and people in the service and hospitality industries and many others, standing and moving are part and parcel of their work.
At the same time, many professions are traditionally sitting oriented. When you have to work on a computer whatever kind of work you do, you are more likely to sit and work. Meetings, lectures, conferences, seminars and even studies are almost always carried out while sitting. In many instances it may take a lot of effort to transition from sitting to standing and doing work.
In order to stand while working, you need a standing desk
When you have to use a computer you need a place to put the computer. So you need a desk that you can use while standing. This can be done in many ways. For temporary use you can place an empty and sturdy carton upside down, use some books or have a makeshift shelf where you can place your laptop and stand and do work.
Or you can invest in a height adjustable desk. Using a mechanism, the platform can be raised or lowered according to your height and comfort. This will enable you to sit and stand alternately, which is now the advisable thing to do for best results in reducing physical problems associated with too much sitting.
Many benefits of standing desks
When you stand more, you will be healthier and fitter and you will use more calories. Using a standing desk or a sit-stand desk has many other benefits.
Pain reduction – when you stand more you will find that you have reduced back pain. In fact back pain sufferers have reported remarkable improvements in their pain after they have used sit-stand desks.
Neck strain – when you are sitting your head is often at an odd angle that adds to the total weight on your spine. This can lead to muscle strain and cervical spondylitis. Using a standing desk will reduce this neck strain.
Disk damage – because of pressure on the spine from constant sitting, you are at greater risk of suffering from disk compression and disk damage. Standing will decrease the risk of this.
Leg pain – sitting for long with your legs dangling or on the floor can result in leg pain. When you stand and work, the blood flows through your legs easily and you are less likely to suffer from leg pain.
Reduction of cardiovascular problems – thanks to freer blood flow you will have better blood circulate and diminish your risk of developing plaque in your arteries. Arterial plaque is a major factor in cardiovascular diseases including heart attack and stroke.
Reduce the incidence of kidney, liver and prostate disorders – people who sit constantly are more at risk of developing these problems.
Helps balance sugar levels – if you are diabetic or even pre-diabetic, keep in mind that standing particularly after eating, helps process glucose more efficiently, reducing the dependence on insulin.
Burns calories – using a standing desk will enable you to lose more calories, reducing the risk of obesity. When you are standing, you also tend to move more.
Improve mood – standing helps release endorphins (the feel-good chemicals in the brain). With even a small increase in endorphins, you will have a better mood and be more productive and creative.
Stress reduction – standing makes you feel more in charge. And if you are upset, you can use breathing exercises to calm down along with standing. This will get your stress levels back to normal.
Whether or not you suffer from any of the above, it is best to preventive measures as far as your health is concerned so that you can reduce the risks and improve your health.
Are offices using standing desks?
Increasingly modern offices are offering this option to employees. New companies, start-ups and those that are staffed by young people and millenials are offering a number of different options to their employees. Companies like Facebook, Apple, Twitter and Google, among others, offer standing desks to their employees because they want to inculcate a culture and habit of healthy living. Many of these companies work in a very different atmosphere than that of traditional hidebound companies in any case and offer many health and fitness options to their workers.
Even if you are in a traditionally set up office, you will probably find your boss amenable to the idea of using a standing desk, though if nobody else is using one, you may find yourself to be odd one out. Plus it is easy enough to get a mounting or convertible platform that you can use on your current desk so that you can work standing.
Can using a standing desk have so many benefits?
While using a sit-stand desk offers many benefits, all these do not occur in isolation. It is important to be aware of many other risk factors as well. For instance, if you continue to eat junk food or eat high fat food, using a standing desk alone is not going to make you thinner and healthier.
You also need to take care of your food and diet. The same goes for arterial plaque – you also need to reduce foods that result in arterial plaque like foods that are high in cholesterol. If you already have significant cholesterol problems, you may need to be medically treated as well.
Basically, you cannot use a standing desk as a cop-out and not take responsibility for other factors that may be having a negative impact on your health. That said, using a standing desk is healthier for you than sitting constantly.
Different kinds of standing desks
Thanks to the increasing demand for standing desks, there is now a wide variety available. What you get will depend on your requirements, your budget, the space available and other factors.
Fixed height standing desks
These were actually the first ones that were marketed. They have a fixed height and can be adjusted to your height so that you are comfortable to use them. However, you cannot use them as sitting desks at all as they will not go down to the required level. They usually have a lock and bolt system. These are among the cheapest options available.
They consist of a platform that can house all the peripherals and equipment needed for your daily work. If you want to adjust the height, you have to remove everything from the top to be able to do this and they can usually not be lowered sufficiently for a comfortable sitting height.
Sit-stand desks that a hand cranked
It is possible to get a fairly reasonably priced sit-stand desk in this range. These have to be hand cranked to a convenient height and can be used as a sitting or standing workstation so are a great option for the budget conscious.
These can be a bit fiddly particularly if you want to alternate between sitting and standing and do so several times a day.
Sit-stand desks that are powered or motorized
These standing desks are fancier and more expensive. You can get a large range in these and they are easy to use as they have a motor under the platform that you can use to increase or decrease the height of the platform. Powered desks take just a few seconds to height adjust and are effortless.
You can get high-end models if you are willing to splurge. For instance, you can get programmable models, integrated power systems and different kinds and sizes of desktops.
Adjustable height desktop risers
If you want to use your desk but want to stand and work, you can actually get an add-on that is an adjustable height desktop riser. This is placed on your existing workspace or you can get one that is mounted on a swing-arm. The riser will have a separate keyboard tray.
Fixed height desktop risers
These are among the cheapest models that you can get as they are simply like standing trays. They are elevated platforms that you place on your existing desk so that you get the required height to place your equipment and work while standing. They are great if you want to try out or are on a limited budget. Some of these come with legs that fold, so occupy less space if you want to put them away. And some may have height adjustable legs as well, so you can adjust the height according to your requirements.
Exercise treadmill desks
These are available in different combinations and you can get a working space that is attached to a treadmill or an integrated treadmill with a workstation. Also called the treadmill desk, these are for the seasoned and compulsive treadmill walker who can work while walking slowly. You can these for a few hundred dollars, but they do need space. They are also great for use if you want to walk or stand constantly, but do not provide the option of sitting.
Sit-stand-recline combination workstations
High-end workstations, these are not just desks, but a combination chair and workspace that is movable in various positions, allowing you to sit, stand or even recline while working. These are motorized and available in different models. Some of them can be used for collaborative work as well.
Costing several thousand dollars, these are often used by people who have any medical, back or mobility issues which may make sitting or standing for hours very difficult and painful. Some of these expensive workstations recline completely so you can work while lying flat on your back.
Given all the benefits associated with the use of standing desks, it may be a good idea to make a shift for reasons of health. Given the various options available to stand while working that will accommodate your needs and your budget, there is no reason not to try outstanding while working.
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