I’m still standing… yeah, yeah yeah!
Standing desks – is working on your feet ideal?
The benefits of an active lifestyle are commonly-known. Long periods of inactivity can lead to serious conditions such as heart disease and obesity. However keeping active can be easier to achieve for some. Many office workers have to spend long periods of time at a desk. This sedentary behaviour can put them at risk from back, neck and shoulder discomfort.
What can be done to help?
One of the ways to counteract this has been for companies to install sit-stand desks for their employees. These come in various forms but most have height-adjustable tops and keyboard trays. Some can be used as a normal desk with a chair but can also be raised to become a standing desk.
The basic idea is that being on your feet for most of the day helps to ease back pain, burn more calories and also, increases productivity! One study found that after 4 weeks of using a standing desk, 87% felt more comfortable, 63% felt happier and 75% felt healthier. Most UK workers sit down for an average of 4-9 hours each day (which, over the course of a year, is a shocking 67 days!) This shows there is a real need to focus on health and wellbeing in the workplace.
To stand or to sit – is that the question?
However, are standing desks really the best way to reduce sedentary hours? There have been reports of people experiencing more leg and foot pain when using standing desks. This could simply be down to the need to become accustomed to spending more time standing. However, this is where issues with ill-fitting or uncomfortable shoes could also play a part. Spending 6 hours standing in high heels may not be the best idea for your back either!
Other people with balance or circulatory issues may find it counterproductive to use a standing desk for long periods. Being stationary means that your body has to work harder to move blood from your extremities back towards your heart. Therefore it is still a good idea to get up and walk! Using a standing desk Monday-Friday at work should not replace 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise 5 times a week.
Stand up straight – it really does help!
The other main factor with standing desks is that they need to be correctly aligned. If the desk is too low, you could end up hunching your back while working. Too high and you could give yourself neck pain. Your spine still needs to be correctly aligned when you are standing up to work. Likewise, wrist issues could develop if the keyboard or screen are at the incorrect height (this applies for normal desks and sitting down to work too!) If you have recently had a standing desk installed, or are thinking of using one, make sure you get some help in setting it up correctly. The screen should always be at eye level, with your elbows at 90o when typing to allow your wrists to remain flat.
Are there any other factors to consider?
Another issue is that studies relating to sitting have only focused on the work environment. It turns out that sitting is not simply ‘sitting’ – its what you do while sat down that has a bigger impact! There is an argument to say that spending long periods of time sat at home watching TV is a lot worse. At work, you may be taking more breaks and the office layout itself may require movement from one place to another (desk to water fountain, photocopy machine to meeting room etc). You are also more likely to be sitting with better posture (compare focusing on completing a task while your boss or co-workers look on, compared to slouching in your pyjamas on the couch in front of the TV).
Working from Home
At home, the convenience of having everything within arm’s reach could mean you have no need to move from one spot. There is also the risk of higher calorie intake. You may not notice that you’ve devoured an entire bag of crisps while binge-watching the latest series on Netflix! It could be that we need to swap an evening on the sofa for 30 minutes of playing in the garden. Or we could try a stroll in the park, or following an online workout. Even if you are working from home, it is good practice to schedule breaks. Doing this ensures that you step away from the computer screen for periods of time. This applies whether you use a standing desk at home or not.
So if you’re considering whether to invest in a standing desk, especially in light of recent advice to work from home, you may wish to look at adding in some other forms of exercise as well. This way you can make sure you are doing as much as you can to stay healthy.
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