Standing desks are a fast-growing alternative for working at the office and in the home, and they can be a powerful tool for addressing poor posture created by excessive sitting.
While there are many ways to adjust and optimize a regular desk to reduce hunching, slouching, and leaning, a standing desk provides a useful option to stand rather than sit throughout the day.
Benefits of a Standing Desk
As more people work office jobs which require more hours at a desk, there is a push for workspace alternatives that are inherently healthier than sitting.
A standing desk provides a useful option for improving posture through conscious engagement of standing and walking muscles while enabling subconscious maintenance of an upright posture throughout the day.
This increased physical engagement, even while assuming a static position, can create immediate and longterm physical benefits relating to strength, balance, digestion, and cardiovascular efficiency.
A limited Australian study concluded that regular use of a standing desk lowered blood sugar to fasting levels more rapidly than sitting (by about 11%) after meals.
Another limited study cited by the Harvard School of Medicine concluded the act of standing burned up to 10% more calories than sitting: 88 calories per hour versus 80 calories per hour.
This alone can amount to 3200 to 4800 calories burned per week if accounting for an 8 to 12 hour workday. That is the equivalent of 1.5 to 2 days of fasting or 12 to 19 hours of walking on a treadmill at 3 mph every week. Even if a person alternates between 50% of their time sitting and 50% of their time standing, they are sheering off 1600-2400 calories per week while working.
These benefits might seem statistically minor, but it is important to remember that longterm accumulation or these benefits will add up over days, weeks, months, and years.
The benefits of a standing desk also directly address poor posture created by excessive sitting by allowing a person to engage muscles that would normally remain inactive while sitting.
Sitting inherently creates difficulty in maintaining an upright neutral spine and proper alignment of the head, shoulders, hips, and ankles. The tendency to relax one’s posture or assume resting positions is simply an integral function of sitting.
Even with proper monitor, keyboard, and mouse positions and an ergonomic stool, sitting upright for long periods requires continued conscious engagement to renew and maintain a healthy posture.
A standing desk can passively encourage an upright posture. By removing the passive physical and mental resistance created by sitting, a person’s body and mind can subconsciously adapt to these conditions and maintain an upright posture with far less mental maintenance and conscious renewal.
With a standing desk, it is possible to harness these benefits while accomplishing one’s work at their desk: An impossible task if the only available working posture is to remain seated.
What Is Really Different About a Standing Desk?
With the proper setup, a standing desk can replace thousands of hours of inactive sitting with an upright neutral posture that engage the hips, legs and core: Muscles that become weak without adequate upright activity and exercise.
This can be extremely useful when focus and concentration create a natural tendency to lose track of proper posture through the work day, especially during intense and demanding days at the office.
Compared to sitting, it is much more natural and time-efficient to transition from a standing position to take breaks, move around, and stretch without breaking concentration and focus throughout the day.
This effect may seem subtle but it is important to account for the vast number of hours many people spend at their desk at the office and in the home.
We have already discussed how minor adjustments to keyboard & mouse placement, monitor height, and seating choice can drastically decrease habitual hunching, slouching, and leaning through superior ergonomics and through increased engagement of muscles that keep the spine upright and hips engaged.
The same concept applies to a standing desk, and any other element in an environment that governs what posture a person assumes. Much like monitor stands, wrist pads, and a proper seat, ergonomic adjustments that create a persistent improvement become significant as they incur passive benefit over time.
Ergonomic improvements of a standing desk that consistently benefits posture and health will compound over thousands of hours spent at one’s desk, especially if these improvements eliminate elements that create poor posture through tendency and habit.
Is a Standing Desk Right for You?
While there are very few short-term studies and almost no long-term studies comparing the physical effects of standing versus sitting, critics of standing desks often base their criticism in unrealistic expectations and highlight the obvious fact that standing might not be as beneficial as walking or a cardiovascular workout.
These critics miss out on the accumulated benefits of a standing desk by basing their criticism on studies that use very small sample sizes, limit their observation periods to 2 hours or less of standing, or studies that outright fail to draw a distinction between standing occupations versus occupations where people choose to stand rather than sit.
A standing desk might not work for some people, and it can be difficult to really know whether or not a standing desk is right for a person unless they try one out for at least a day.
Some people might feel the standing desk is too drastic or it might be too tiring to use, and therefore will not choose a standing desk even when presented with an option.
Also, many offices today do offer standing desk options for their employees, but this option is still far from being a standard offering for the workplace. For these people, buying a standing desk for one’s home might seem risky in case the option is not for them.
Here are things to consider before committing to a full-fledged standing desk that might cost hundreds of dollars.
For anyone not accustomed to being on their feet all day, there is an adjustment period due to engagement of muscles which have become weakened through excessive sitting and lack of physical activity.
This can include soreness of the feet, legs, hips, and lower back akin to what is experienced after a long hike or any day spent on one’s feet rather than in a seat.
This discomfort can actually be a sign that a standing desk is accomplishing its goal: Building muscles used to stand and walk to have a positive effect on one’s posture.
As a person spends more time building strength and balance by replacing sitting with standing, their muscles will acclimate and become accustomed to the position with little to no discomfort.
Many standing desks can also accommodate a stool to allow a person to alternate between standing and sitting. This can be used to stand for shorter periods to build strength, balance and stamina for standing while using a seated position to take breaks while adjusting.
For anyone turned off to the idea of a standing desk by any potential discomfort or aches associated with building muscle in the feet, legs, hips, and core, a good path to adjusting to a standing desk would be standing for 60 minutes a day while gradually increasing this time over days and weeks.
Stand More and Move More for Better Posture
While it is generally unhealthy to assume any single position for a prolonged period, standing upright is preferable to sitting if a person is trying to improve their posture.
Ideally, everyone could quit their jobs, burn their desks and chairs, and assume livelihoods entirely focused on health, but for better or worse, most people are bound to their careers and professional commitments by either choice or requirement.
And while a standing desk might not offer any magical cures or transformative therapies, the direct and indirect benefits of increased activity and better posture will have acute and lasting benefits.
I personally switched to standing desks in 2015, and I have not looked back since. Using standing desks at home and in the office helped address my postural issues created by extreme hours of sitting at my desk by removing that element entirely.
Without a standing desk, my only option was to remain seated for 80-100 hours per week, or get a new job that did not demand such intense hours using a computer at my desk.
Since I was dedicated to my role at work and had no practical means to simply switch jobs, I started to experiment with standing desks as a means to improve my surroundings for posture.
I sincerely hope nobody else has to spend the same hours at their desk for their job, but I hope anyone whose posture is affected by their workspace chooses to explore a standing desk option to reduce daily hunching and slouching subconsciously encouraged by sitting.
In the end, a standing desk serves a simple purpose: Provide the option to stand instead of sit throughout the day while working at one’s desk.
When combined with regular exercise and mindful awareness of habits that either improve or harm posture, a person can use a standing desk as the cornerstone for optimizing their daily surroundings to improve and maintain good posture.
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