Is your work desk making you fat, grumpy & sore?
Reading time: about 4-5 minutes
I could have also included “and reducing your life expectancy” in the above title but that was a bit morbid sounding…. and long.
Anyway, writing about a desk isn’t exactly an intriguing topic (and certainly not one I thought I would spend time on). But it’s actually a lot more interesting than I initially thought and a must read for anyone who works in front of a computer all day!
I heard about standing desks a while ago but it wasn’t until I had a conversation with a friend about them that I finally pulled my finger out and bought one. In the process I did some reading about it and was surprised at just how big an impact it can have switching from sitting to standing.
The desk itself isn’t the most stylish thing to look at but considering how many hours a day I’m in front of my computer, the trade off for my long term health is well worth it.
What is a standing desk?
If you haven’t heard of one yet its pretty simple; its a desk that allows you to stand instead of sit in front of your computer.
This is achieved simply by placing your monitor on top of a bunch of books ( if you’re a tight arse 😉 ) or buying a standing desk (or sometimes called sit-stand desk) that adjusts its height like in the picture below.
Some facts about standing desks
A pitch that people sometimes use when selling these desks is that it can help you to lose or avoid weight gain. While this is kind of true, they can sometimes give the impression that you can drop a heap of extra weight quickly, so lets be realistic:
According to a recent study on energy expenditure during sitting, standing & walking:
- Sitting burns 80 calories an hour
- Standing burns 88 calories an hour
- Walking burns 210 calories an hour
So in a typical work day if you stand rather than sit for 8 hours you’re only burning an extra 64 calories which is a little less than the equivalent of 1 cup of strawberries (not very inspiring).
However, if you just add a half hour walk during your lunch break, combined you can burn an extra 125 calories each day. Times that over a 5 day work week and you’re up to an extra 625 calories a week, 2500/month and 30,000 a year…
So you’re not going to drop weight quickly but when you think long term, you can see how it adds up! Its like superannuation, a little bit each week isn’t much, but it does add up.
Another study by obesity researcher James Levine had some pretty eye opening results:
“Lack of movement slows metabolism, reducing the amount of food that is converted to energy and thus promoting fat accumulation, obesity, and the litany of ills—heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and more—that come with being overweight.” Read the full study here.
Therefore, as it affects your metabolism, this will also have an affect on weight gain/loss.
Exercise isn’t enough:
Sitting for long periods of time damages your health, even if you get plenty of exercise elsewhere. So no… hitting the gym, running, walking regularly etc. is not enough to stave off the effects of sitting all day. It certainly helps, but isn’t enough on its own.
Sitting makes us tired, moody and causes pain 🙁
Sedentary behavior is also associated with lower energy levels and basically being a grump. In another study, participants using standing desks reported less stress and fatigue than those who remained seated the entire day. Like coffee, standing gives you a little energy boost only its a better one as its natural and longer lasting, and if we feel energised, being in a good mood usually comes with it.
Furthermore, standing can help aid shoulder and back pain issues as your posture is much more natural when standing than it is when slouching in front of your computer. The above study also found that “the use of a sit-stand desk reduced upper back and neck pain by 54% after just 4 weeks.”
Effects on Productivity
A common misconception is that standing makes it hard to work, especially when fine motor skills are required, like photo retouching and the like.
I personally have found that it does take some getting used to but so far it hasn’t stopped me from being able to do all my tasks. On the odd occasion where it has been tricky, I can just sit temporarily to complete something and then jump back up again, no biggy.
From a physical point of view, we know that sitting makes everything slow down. Standing on the other hand keeps our blood pumping and our metabolism up helping us to focus and concentrate…
How’s that for “thinking on your feet?”
Considering all the above physical and mental benefits, if anything standing desks should help to boost productivity rather than hindering it.
I think this one is a no-brainer; a sedentary lifestyle can lead to a whole host of issues such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, yadda yadda yadda. I’m sure you’ve heard all of these before so I won’t bore you.
If you’re battling sedentary lifestyle issues, a standing desk is not a all-in one solution but it’s definitely a positive step forward.
The crux of it is our bodies were not meant to be idle, we need to move and the more we move the longer we should live (unless you move your body in front of a bus, then your standing desk probably won’t help with that).
Some tips to get started with a standing desk
Just like sitting can cause back and neck pain, standing for long periods can also cause back, leg or foot pain so its a good idea to start slowly. Don’t buy one and expect to stand comfortably for 8 hours straight away when you’re body isn’t use to it.
I can walk for hours without issue but standing is different and I found it a little uncomfortable at first after the first hour or so, mainly in my lower back. Its the same as exercise, if you haven’t been active for a while you can’t expect to go from nothing to running a marathon straight away; you need to build up to it, be patient and stick to it.
Many experts suggest starting with 30 minute increments and increasing your standing time gradually to build up your resistance. This is just a guide though, do whatever works for you. Listen to your body and if you feel any aches or discomfort sit back down.
When you are standing, adjust your weight, go up and down on your toes and move around as much as your tasks allow. If you have the time little walks help too, even if its just up the hallway and back for a quick stretch.
What desk do I use?
I went for an adjustable desk, but I didn’t have to spend a fortune to get one. I grabbed a Wynston Sit Stand Desk from Office Works for $200.
It comes already built in the box (yeessss!) and you simply squeeze a lever either side of the desk to lift it up and down, easy.
You can of course go nuts and spend a lot more on these kind of desks and get more bells and whistles, but this one suits me just fine.
And for those wondering, no I don’t get a commission or anything for giving this desk a plug, its just a good product that I’m happy to personally recommend.
So what are you waiting, get off your arse! 🙂