Surely you may have read the attention-grabbing headlines of the benefits of a standing desk. In the light of many research findings that sitting is actually bad for your health and carries the risk of many disorders and health problems, you may even consider working using a standing desk.
Hold on and don’t splurge on one just yet. Do you know the entire picture? If not, read on and learn about the many disadvantages of a standing desk.
Research studies have shown that standing while working carries significant risks of physical problems and causes discomfort. At the same time, it does not provide any demonstrable improvement in productivity.
The physical disadvantages of using a standing desk
If you have been used to sitting, it may make it extremely difficult to transition to standing. After all, you can sit in different positions, rest your back or even lay your head on folded arms on your desk to get some shut-eye or simply zone out for a bit. When you have meetings or conferences, it is simply easier to sit and communicate, pass papers and even discuss things. Conference and meeting rooms are all made for sitting. Standing and talking seem to lend a more casual air.
Other disadvantages of using a standing desk are:
- You may find it difficult to use a keyboard and mouse as it takes some getting used to.
- Your monitor may not be at a comfortable height and you may experience eyestrain, particularly if you use a laptop.
- You will find it difficult to have lunch at your desk if you cannot sit. Having lunch while standing is not a great option since it becomes difficult to manage everything as anyone who has eaten standing at a buffet knows.
- You may find it difficult to look at the paperwork and use the computer and the phone or multitask when you are standing.
- You are more visible to everybody, particularly if everyone is not using a standing desk.
- If your work requires a great deal of concentration, you may not find standing conducive.
- You may find the whole concept of standing and working alien.
- It is possible that you really don’t want to spend that much money on a standing desk.
- You may think that working while standing is a new-fangled idea or a hyped fad.
However, these may be things that you can possibly get used to in time. Or you can find other solutions to work while standing that are more comfortable such as eating in the lunchroom if you have one where you can sit. Or go out and get some fresh air at the same time while lunching.
The health problems associated with using a sit-stand desk
Research studies show that standing for too long carries with it many health risks. Think about it – if you are constantly standing you are most likely going to get more tired. And if you have any health or mobility issues, you may not be able to stand for a long time anyway. Among the very real problems associated with the use of sit-stand desks are:
- Standing throughout the day can lead to lower back problems as the discs get compressed. Both sitting and standing for too long can lead to back problems and pain. When you use an ergonomic chair, your lower back can be better supported.
- Standing can result in musculoskeletal disorders. You may find that your feet get numb and your knees also hurt.
- People who stand as part of their work (shop floor staff, service staff, construction workers and others) have a greater risk of heart disease and cardiovascular disorders. In fact, studies show that standing constantly may even double the risk of heart attacks.
- Standing can aggravate postural problems, more so if you already suffer from any posture difficulties.
- Standing for too long can result in varicose veins, blood pooling in the legs and feet, swollen and painful feet.
- Standing and working do not seem to offer any benefits regarding productivity and creativity.
- Research does not show any definitive conclusions regarding the reduction in diabetes risk by standing.
- While standing results in more calories being burnt, it is not really an effective weight loss formula, particularly if that is the only ‘exercise’ you get.
If you are on the fence regarding using a standing desk, you should be aware of the risks that constant standing has.
What should you do if you want to diminish the risks associated with sitting?
So you know that sitting does nothing for your posture, compromises your physical activity and increases the incidence of weight gain. You would like to use a standing desk but are conflicted, particularly with the new body of evidence that shows that standing desks do not have the benefits that they were touted to have.
If you want a compromise then you need a sit-stand desk that will enable you to alternate between sitting and standing so that you reduce the risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle and still reap the rewards of using a standing desk.
A sit-stand desk or a height-adjustable desk that can move up and down is a great option as it will enable you to stand and work when you are energetic and sit when required. In fact, alternating the two is good for health. You can do this in 30-60 minute intervals.
And if you are on a budget and don’t want to spend several hundred or thousands of dollars on fancy sit-stand desks, you can get motorized desk risers that you can place on your current desk. You will be more productive, avoid health problems associated with sitting or standing too long and feel better as well as you will doing more for your health.
At the same time, it is important to add more movement to your workday. So walk around whenever you can. Even if you are sitting or standing, fidget and keep changing your positions as you can get muscle cramps or spasms if you are sitting or standing in one place. It is also a good idea to stretch your hands and legs, neck, do some shoulder rolls and even arch or stretch your back (whenever possible) to prevent niggling aches and pain that can become chronic and affect your ability to carry out your work.
What else can you do to stay healthy while using a sit-stand desk?
If you already use a standing desk or are planning to one, there are many other things you can do to reduce the disadvantages of their use. Some of the steps you can take are:
Use a gel mat when standing – a gel mat or an anti-fatigue mat or a yoga mat will help support your feet and prevent foot related pain and other problems.
Posture mindfulness – it is vital that you stand in the correct position that makes it comfortable to work, without straining your eyes, neck, hands, shoulders, and feet. This is a must whether you are sitting or standing. If you are slumped while sitting or your upper body and head is leaning towards the computer or monitor, you are bound to suffer from muscle problems and pain apart from experiencing eye strain.
Wear comfortable footwear – your feet need to be supported well. If you wear heels or dress shoes, then these are not the most comfortable footwear and can lead to foot problems and even throw your back. Your shoes should not be tight, but there should be sufficient wiggle room as your feet may swell during the day.
You may also use shoes that have arch support and even check out if you can simply work in your socks for sometime if the office environment is conducive to this. Sneakers and even flat slippers may be possible in some offices.
Make sure your clothes are comfortable – this is even more important if you alternate between sitting and standing. Tight clothes may be fine when you are standing but will cut into you and make you uncomfortable when you are sitting. Depending on the work you do and the office you are in, it may be a good idea to revamp your work wardrobe when you are switching over to a sit-stand desk.
Ensure greater comfort when sitting – using a lumbar support pillow can help reduce the incidence of back pain. You can even get a massage pillow if you suffer from upper or lower back pain.
Use a balance ball or a balance cushion on your chair – as this keeps on moving slightly with your weight and posture, you will not be in a static position for long. Once you get used to, you will find it very comfortable and your minor aches and pains will be history.
Reduce the possibility of foot pain - use an ergonomic chair with adjustable footrest instead of leaving your feet dangling or even on the floor. If you lift your feet a bit, the circulation improves.
Documents at eye level – if you have to keep moving your head up and down to see documents and working on the keyboard, consider using a document holder, so that they are at eye level.
Never cradle your phone – whether you are sitting or standing when working, avoid cradling your phone between your head and your shoulders as it will strain the muscles. If you have to talk for long use a headset, hands-free or Bluetooth.
Anything done to excess is not good and the same goes for sitting or standing. It is always better to find a balance.
What about anecdotal evidence?
A simple search for first-person accounts or anecdotal evidence regarding the advantages or disadvantages of using a standing desk shows up interesting insights. For instance, many people say that sitting and working results in lowered productivity not for any other reason but because they tend to waste time on other activities like using social media or shopping sites during working hours. When they are standing and working, they do not waste that kind of time on these things.
Some people have also reported that they have lost weight simply by adding standing to their work and even though the gains (or rather losses) are not highly significant and you can lose around 2.5 kilos in a year by standing alone, the weight loss adds up over time. Others have reported that their back pain actually disappeared as they started using a standing desk.
While there are some positive experiences using a sit-stand desk, there are also reports of people not being comfortable using one, have more pain, swollen calves and ankles, and backache.
Then again, your workplace may not be conducive to standing. Or it may be difficult for you to do the kind of work you do while standing. If everybody is sitting and working, you may find that you are the odd one out if you insist on standing when working.
All these factors come into play depending on the kind of work you do, your office environment, the kind of physical space your office provides and many other things. It must be said that by and large most office bosses are now open to the idea of improving the workplace and making employees comfortable and keeping them healthy.
If you are still sold on the idea of using a standing desk, then by all means go ahead and get the kind that fits your needs particularly if you are otherwise physically fit and healthy with no back or leg problems.
And it is always a good idea to alternate between sitting and standing as far as possible unless you are sure that you want to only sit or stand while working. In any case, whatever you do, get some more movement in so that you stay healthy and avoid physical and other risks while working.
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