Do Standing Desks Improve Your Health?

By , Alicia Capetillo, Staff Writer
In his book "Get Up! Why Your Chair is Killing You and What You Can Do About It," health expert and inventor of the treadmill desk Dr. James Levine calls out the dangers of sitting in no uncertain terms, writing, "We all have a capacity of happiness. Sitting somehow suppresses it. Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death." Article after study after article agree that the average American sits too much and needs to incorporate more movement into their day-to-day tasks. But what's a nine-to-fiver supposed to do?

After years of the stability ball swearing it would save our posture, there's a new kid in town vying for the attention of every cubicle: the active or standing desk. The standing desk seemingly offers the promise of a better tomorrow, free from the lackluster monotony of sitting for eight hours a day and the diseases that are so often linked to it, including heart disease and diabetes. But does the standing desk stand up to the test?

Yes and no. Dr. Matt Tanneberg, a sports chiropractor and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist in Phoenix, Arizona, says active desks have been shown to decrease the chance of obesity due to its metabolism-boosting effects that come from standing and being more inclined to move. Those with lower back pain should also take note of the posture benefits tied to standing desks. "With standing, you are also putting less pressure on your lumbar discs as opposed to sitting," he said. "One of the most stressful position for discs in your low back is sitting. Standing and moving around should help to alleviate the low back pain caused by pressure on your lumbar discs."

Plus, a recent study featured in Preventive Medicine found that, in addition to potential physical benefits, standing desks were also linked to improved mood among participants who used the desks for a seven-week time period. Jury's still out on whether it helps with a case of the Mondays, though.

Of course, it's not all sunshine and happy coworkers. Dr. Tanneberg cautions against too much standing, which can be just as strenuous as sitting all day. "If you get tired and hunch in front of your computer screen while standing, it is just as hard on your body as if you are sitting," he said. "Standing puts excess pressure on your feet, which can lead to soreness, muscle spasm [and] even issues usually associated with runners like plantar fasciitis."

The winning combination seems to be healthy dose of both standing and sitting throughout the day. "I tell my patients to set an alarm on their phone for every 20 minutes. When the alarm goes off, get up, stretch out, get a drink of water, go to the bathroom, do something else to move around," Dr. Tanneberg said. "By switching back and forth, you are staying active and not stressing your body too much one way or the other." Plus, as with any standing, be conscious of your posture to avoid discomfort or joint pains.

If you're interested in trying a standing desk, Dr. Tanneberg recommends easing yourself into a stand/sit workday by starting with the 20-minute alarm system or focusing on your sitting posture by employing some kind of lumbar support, such as a small pillow. If neither option alleviates your pain, try propping up your computer to stand a few hours each day before looking to invest in a more advanced option.