My Standing Desk Experiment

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For the past three weeks I’ve been standing while I work, instead of my usual sitting. I have some interesting results to share with you in a moment, but first let me tell you why I’ve been doing all this standing.

My Desk

It all started after a couple of tweets came across my radar in the same day about the negative health effects of sitting. It turns out that sitting all day every day for work might not be good for your health and wellness. Who would have thought?

The studies and experiments I found really caught my attention, partly because I’ve been sitting through 40- to 60-hour work weeks every week for the better part of 15 years. Now that I’m in my mid-30s, I’m starting to really consider my current health and habits and trying to do a better job of giving myself the best shot at living a long and active life.

Here’s the evidence about what sitting can do to you:

  • Multiple medical studies (like this one in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise and this one in the American Journal of Epidemiology) have shown that sitting greatly increases the rate of all-cause mortality, especially from causes including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. In particular, that first study showed that people who sit for most of the day are 54 percent more likely to die of heart attacks.
  • Even if you exercise, the longer you sit the greater the chances you will die.
  • Sitting shuts down the circulation of a fat-absorbing enzyme called lipase. In another study, scientists found that standing up engages muscles and promotes the distribution of lipase, which prompts the body to process fat and cholesterol, independent of the amount of time spent exercising.

It turns out that some of these studies of how sitting down can negatively affect your health have been around for a while. I seem to remember hearing about them a couple of years ago, but brushed it all off, thinking that my modest exercise regimen was counteracting all the sitting.

These studies seem to show the opposite. No matter if you exercise, sitting too much is dangerous to your health.

Of course, there are two sides to every story. Too much sitting may kill you, but what about too much standing?

A review of 43 studies by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found only a weak correlation between sitting and mortality.

In a Time Magazine report, a researcher on Ergonomics from Cornell noted that “Standing to work has long known to be problematic, it is more tiring, it dramatically increases the risks of carotid atherosclerosis (ninefold) because of the additional load on the circulatory system, and it also increases the risks of varicose veins, so standing all day is unhealthy.”

OK, so it may be a little more complicated than just sitting vs. standing. As always, personally I’m going to assume that too much of either is probably a bad thing.

Given that I was sitting through 100% of my work day, and probably 85% of my total day, after reading all these studies I decided to try doing a lot more standing.

About three weeks ago I rustled up some boxes from around the house, put the boxes on my desk, perched my laptop on top of the boxes and pushed my chair out of the way. I’ve since been standing up for the majority of my work day for the past few weeks.

There are also purpose-built desks you can buy to set up a standing (or even treadmill arrangement), but I’m happy now with my boxes at a height where my arms bend at about 90 degrees while typing.

At first the standing was rather uncomfortable. During the first few days I could only get through a couple of hours at a time before taking a sitting break. Now I can stand most of the day if I decide to, with little breaks to walk around every hour or two.

There’s no question, standing takes more energy and tends to make you sore compared to sitting. For a little foot cushion I’ve folded up a yoga mat and have been standing on that, which is more comfortable for me than just standing on the hard wood floors.

So far, my standing desk experiment has had several positive outcomes, with just a few slight negatives. Here are my results:

  • This is the most exciting and useful benefit so far: I have more energy during the work day. I haven’t experienced the same mid-afternoon lulls that I used to while sitting. I’m also more energized during phone calls, Skype sessions and while recording video and audio. This is a huge benefit and adds to the energy gains I found after quitting my coffee habit last year.
  • I have lost three pounds over the past three weeks, despite exercising less than usual (due to a cold) and making no changes to my diet. I’m not sure if this is directly related to standing, but keep in mind that an average person will burn 60 more calories an hour when standing versus sitting. That’s 2,400 extra calories a week if you add 8 hours of standing, 5 days a week. A pound of body fat equals about 3,500 calories, so the weight loss actually makes sense.
  • I’m more likely to be working while in front of my laptop as opposed to the occasional stretches of sitting like a zombie I used to fall prey to. It’s harder to nod off or lose focus when standing.
  • On the slightly negative side, I definitely feel fatigued in the legs and back after a long day of standing. On the other hand, it feels great when I do sit down, I don’t have that numb in the rear end and legs feeling anymore, and I can stand without fatigue much longer when at concerts and other standing events.

In all, I’m really happy to have made the change and recommend that people try standing at least a little bit throughout the day. The increased energy and focus is worth the effort, even if the long-term health benefits don’t turn out to be so major.

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  • KH says
    I'm really glad I'm not currently tied to a desk all day at work. I spend most of the time on my feet. Must be healthier. Might spend a little to much time in front of the computer at home though....
  • I've been desk bound for the last 6 months and have gained about 6kg. Great article, I'm very tempted to try this.
  • DeviousX says
    I was desk bound for 6 months once. Worst six months of my life.
    What made it worse was the lack of windows.
  • Chris says
    I am a seating and desking specialist and recently I have set some people up to do time both standing and sitting while at their work space. A combination of both can be achieved through Hight Adjustable Desks. You do need to make sure you are set up correctly or the resulting injuries caused by poor set up could be a problem to manage.
    Chris M. Ross
    Business Risk Assessment Limited

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