The Standing Desk Debate


By now, most of us have heard that sitting too much is bad for your health. But, do we realize just how bad sitting can be?

As soon as you sit down, your overall muscle activity decreases along with your metabolic rate. Prolonged sitting results in a decrease in glucose uptake from the blood, an increase in plasma triglycerides, an increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol, a loss of muscle mass and bone mineral density, and a decrease in your body’s ability to transport and use oxygen.

All of these negative effects can lead to an increase in the risk of developing type II diabetes, heart disease and certain types of cancer.

In a study conducted in 2009, researchers found that there is a direct correlation between how much we sit and mortality rates. Researchers asked more than 17,000 men and women, “How much time do you spend sitting during most days of the week?”

They then followed these people over the next 12 years and measured mortality rates. They found that people who sat at least 50 percent of the time during the day (either at school, at work, at home) had a significantly higher risk of dying from any cause.

The people who sat the most during the day had a 54 percent increased risk of dying during the 12 years compared to the people who sat the least.

The most shocking part of this research was that it did not matter if the participants smoked, drank alcohol, were overweight or even if they exercised regularly.

Leading a sedentary lifestyle increased the risk of dying in otherwise healthy individuals.

Other studies have also shown that regular exercise may not be enough to combat the negative effects of prolonged sitting.

So, for those people with a work life confined to a desk, what are some strategies that can be incorporated to reduce the time spent sitting?

Have you heard of the treadmill desks?

Yes, there are actually desks equipped with special treadmills that are designed to run for prolonged periods of time at slow speeds. Users walk at 1 or 2 miles per hour while typing, writing, talking on the phone, etc. The speed is slow enough that is does not impede the user’s ability to do these things.

The general recommendation to maintain health is that people should strive to walk 10,000 steps a day or the equivalent of 5 miles.

Walking at 2 mph at a treadmill desk, you can accomplish this in just 2.5 hours. Not to say that you have to walk non-stop for that long.

Many of the treadmill desks can convert from a treadmill desk to a sitting desk. So you can walk for a bit, take a break, and walk for a bit longer. As you build your strength and endurance, you can increase the amount of time you spend walking and decrease the time that you spend sitting.

If a treadmill desk seems a little too extreme for you or for your work environment, another option is a standing desk.

Many workplaces are already converting to standing desks because of the increases in productivity and creativity that they induce. Employees report that using a standing desk improves blood flow and keeps their minds more alert.

It’s kind of difficult to get sleepy at your desk when you are standing. The standing desk is not a new invention; Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Winston Churchill were known to use standing desks because of the improvement in mental performance they experienced.

Another reported benefit to standing desks is the increase in communication among employees in a cubicle environment. It is easy to recluse into a cubicle and just message a co-worker, but when you are all at eye-level you are more inclined to speak to each other directly.

Weight loss is another benefit of switching to a standing desk.

Standing burns approximately a third more calories than sitting, which can mean around 500 extra calories being burned each day.

This increase in caloric expenditure is due to the fact that all of your postural muscles must be engaged when standing.

Standing with good posture will strengthen your core and can help alleviate low back pain; but what is good standing posture?

As you fatigue, it is very easy to let the low back arch, your shoulders slump and allow your body to sag on your pelvis, but this puts even more stress on the muscles and joints. You should stand with your feet about hips-width apart. Your weight should be evenly distributed on your feet; avoid putting your weight into your heels. Keep your abdominals engaged, and stand tall with your shoulders upright. Tuck your chin slightly to avoid a forward head posture.

Other strategies to avoid fatigue when standing are to wear comfortable shoes and use a specially cushioned mat. Move around if possible, and try to use a stool to prop one foot up at time.

If your workplace is not conducive to standing desks, or if you don’t want to be the only stander among your sitter co-workers, consider standing during phone calls or take standing breaks. Set an hourly alarm on your cell phone or computer to remind you stand or walk around for a bit.

If you feel like you are ready to make the change to a standing desk, ease in to it. It is not realistic to expect that you will be able to stand the full 8 hour work day. Commit to standing just an hour or two a day, and slowly increase the amount of time you spend standing.

Many of the standing desks easily convert to a sitting desk, or you can look for a chair that is specially made to be used with a standing-height work station.

Of course, a standing desk may not be appropriate for everyone. People with circulation problems need to consult a physician before making the switch.

And just to inspire you all, I stood at my desk when researching and writing this article!


Katzmarzyk PT, et al. Sitting time and mortality from all causes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2009; 41(5):998-1005.

About the author

Katie Brumley
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Katie is the Strength & Conditioning Coordinator at the Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center in Dallas, Texas and a certified personal trainer through the National Strength & Conditioning Association.

1 thought on “The Standing Desk Debate”

  1. Dayna Sherman Martin

    I’ve been using a standing desk for almost two years and really like it. I started using it because of back pain from a car accident, but I keep using it because it keeps away the afternoon blahs. I use a Stand Steady desk ( http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00E0ODMB6 ) but you can even make your own just to try out standing.

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The Standing Desk Debate