Sit, stand, move at work. It really works. Here's why.By Daniel Angelini on October 05, 2018
Recently there's been a lot of news about standing desk research and their claims being based on "weak science". I would liken this to the times when all of a sudden taking multivitamins or fish-oil is apparently "bad" for you.
I spent 2 years researching, interviewing health experts and writing a book going into the depths around the need for our body to move and how we can stand up and get moving more in the office to benefit our health while we work. In this writing process, I covered nearly 100 medical research papers and spoke with 20 health experts covering a broad facet of skills (from professors to neurosurgeons) and I'm here to tell you that these articles are wrong (or at least they don't give you the full picture). I'd like to explain to you in more detail why that is.
Firstly, before getting too far in the research I would like to get clear on a few things:
- Expectations of a standing desk - If you go from a sitting desk to a standing desk, don't expect to transform your body from Peter Griffin to Arnold Schwarzenegger. You won't burn that many calories or get toned up fast, it doesn't work like that.
- Correct usage of a standing desk - Very few people know how to use a standing desk correctly, this is due to the lack of guidance or instructions that come with the desk from most brands. In my book, we go into that in more detail. For most people (considering they don't have a severe injury and are in reasonably good shape), using your standing desk for 2-4 hours per day is enough to provide you with the benefits. Don't go for a 12-hour stint! Standing for bouts of 20-40 minutes at a time.
- Behaviour changes give you benefits too - Sit, stand up, move is definitely the answer. But last time I checked, we're all now getting more screen time than ever before and I'm sure this trend will continue. Unless someone invents a voice-activated, Bob-Dylan-harmonica-esq laptop stand that floats in front of you, let's face it, we're deskbound. In other words, movement is the best but given we mostly work on computers, alternating our posture is the next best thing.
- Don't ditch your chair - A good, supportive, ergonomic chair is 100% part of your daily kit at your desk. This is because if you are using a standing desk, your muscles in a supported posture while you sit. One of the great things about using a standing desk is that it allows us to be able to alternate our body posture regularly between sitting and standing. As mentioned before, definitely don't feel like you can never sit!
Secondly, here's why sitting is bad for us, as confirmed by several health publications over the past 35 years and health expert interviews:
- Siting, it is a killer - Physical inactivity is the 4th leading risk factor of death globally. 6% of deaths globally result from physical inactivity (World Health Organization 2009). This is more than lung cancer and HIV combined. I was totally shocked when discovered this fact.
- Spinal compression - Sitting puts 40% more pressure on your spine than standing (Ergonomics Research 2009). Chronic lower back pain is becoming more prevalent from the age of 20+ years onwards and is costing the world billions.
- Postural problems - Prolonged sitting causes postural problems and muscle weakness in the form of a strained neck, sore shoulders, inflexible spine, weakened abs, shortened hip flexors and weakened glutes (as verified by several physiotherapists, osteopaths, chiropractors and a spinal neurosurgeon, all of whom treat sitting-related issues on a daily basis). I'm pretty sure we can all relate to feeling like this after 40+ hours in the chair...
Here's a message Professor Neville Owen, NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow and Distinguished Professor of Health Sciences at Swinburne University. His credentials are too long to mention, so you can link to them here.
There are multiple reasons why our bodies are not meant to be sitting. As well as adverse changes in muscle metabolism, lack of stimulation that our vascular systems need, and many other important health-related factors, regular postural changes are essential for our musculoskeletal health particularly in avoiding low back pain and a range of other muscle and joint problems. More movement keeps the whole system in good shape."
And a brief message from Elisa Terry, Program Director of the UCLA Recreation Fitwell program, Santa Monica, California.
Humans are not biologically designed to be sedentary.
The more you sit, the unhealthier it is for your body."
As you could imagine, I could go on and on.
If you are using a standing desk, here are some tips to help you get the most out of it:
- Raise the MOVI desk up to a height where your elbows are at 90 degrees
- After 20-40 minutes of standing, take a sitting break or move (change posture often)
- When starting out, aiming for 1-2 hours total standing time per day is a good goal
- Be mindful of footwear, particularly high heels which can compromise standing posture
- If at all your legs feel tired, take a break and move or sit (yes sit)
- Since you're on your feet, you can get moving more by talking to your team face to face, taking the stairs, holding walking meetings, walk around the office when you're on a call, and make sure you get outside for a walk at lunch.
And what about the health benefits of using a stand up desk?
As you've probably gathered from this blog, we like to go into detail. So to cover those benefits in more detail, please check out our blog dedicated to the health benefits.
Here's a brief summary of the health benefits of standing up:
- Improved productivity and engagement
- Better back strength
- Improve circulation
- Deeper breathing capacity
- More muscle engagement
- Elevated mood and wellbeing
A medical research journal titled 'Taking a Stand: The Effects of Standing Desks on Task Performance and Engagement' published on 1st July 2017 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health stated that "standing desk use will improve engagement and attention", as well as provide the user with "mood enhancement" and be "a promoter of well-being".
In May 2016, research from the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health indicated that standing desks could increase employee productivity by up to 53%.
For the avid researcher, publications are released every month on this topic and no doubt there will be countless more to come delving into this topic and finding out more about it and the impacts. From personal experience, I think this 'movement' is the best thing to ever happen to workplaces.
Get the first 30 pages free of my Book
My book is 180 pages and covers in more detail the benefits of maintaining a healthy and active workday, recommendations from health experts, tips for moving more at work, a guide for using a standing desk correctly. So you can learn more about this topic, I've made the first 30 pages available for free. Simply click here to download the PDF. If you like what you see, the full ebook is available online here for only $19.
After using a standing desk for 5 years, I truly believe they are a great tool to have in your workplace setup as they allow you to change posture regularly and be on your feet, which is for certain a catalyst for movement. I just think that the standing desk is misunderstood right now. There is no doubt that moving our body more is the end goal, but within the workplace parameters, there's only so much we can do. We should sit, stand up, move and endeavour to change our office culture to encourage more frequent movement. This is good for our body, mind and overall health and wellbeing. The standing desk is a tool, as your chair is. You need both, and they should both be used correctly and for adequate amount of time.
Thanks for reading!
Daniel & The MOVI Team
The MOVI Standing Desk is a height adjustable standing desk platform that converts your existing desk into an electric stand up desk without the time and cost associated with removing and refitting existing office furniture. Simple as that.
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This goes without saying that our stand up desk arrives fully assembled, with a 2 year warranty and your choice of black or white with a beautiful natural wood bench-top.
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