Are Standing Desks Healthier Than Sitting?

graham hill desk photo

Treehugger leader Graham Hill uses a standup desk.

TreeHugger founder Graham Hill uses a standup desk, a very simple board on two cabinets; I stayed in his apartment a few years ago and just loved it, and have wanted to convert to one ever since. I thought it would keep me more alert; now Olivia Judson of the New York Times writes that it is better for your health. She first describes the problems of sitting:

If you consider only healthy people who exercise regularly, those who sit the most during the rest of the day have larger waists and worse profiles of blood pressure and blood sugar than those who sit less.

rumsfield standing desk image

Former Department of Defense Leader Donald Rumsfield uses a standup desk. Hmm...

She continues with an explanation of the benefits of standing:

Standing in one place is hard work. To stand, you have to tense your leg muscles, and engage the muscles of your back and shoulders; while standing, you often shift from leg to leg. All of this burns energy.

It turns out that there is a "physiology of inactivity," where your body reacts to extensive sitting and slows down your metabolism. Judson writes:

As an example, consider lipoprotein lipase. This is a molecule that plays a central role in how the body processes fats; it's produced by many tissues, including muscles. Low levels of lipoprotein lipase are associated with a variety of health problems, including heart disease. Studies in rats show that leg muscles only produce this molecule when they are actively being flexed (for example, when the animal is standing up and ambling about). The implication is that when you sit, a crucial part of your metabolism slows down.

stillvoll desk standing

Stilvoll makes the prettiest standing desk I have ever seen

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety suggests that working in a standing position can cause health problems of its own.

Working in a standing position on a regular basis can cause sore feet, swelling of the legs, varicose veins, general muscular fatigue, low back pain, stiffness in the neck and shoulders, and other health problems. These are common complaints among sales people, machine operators, assembly-line workers and others whose jobs require prolonged standing.

But most knowledge workers don't have to stand in one position all day. Jamis at 37 Signals says it gives him greater clarity of thought.

I noticed an immediate increase in my ability to focus on a problem for longer, and with greater clarity. When I was blocked by some problem, I was able to just walk away from the desk, whereas before the effort of getting up from my chair often made me prefer to just sit and stew in my frustration.

george nelson perch image
Jamis also notes that he has a bar stool handy to rest on when he is tired. I have resisted changing my desk because I have a classic George Nelson unit from 1952 that I love, but I also have a classic George Nelson Perch that I never use. Perhaps it is time to give a standing desk (and that ridiculous, uncomfortable perch) a try.

More in the New York Times, where better alternatives than sitting like exercise balls are also suggested, and where, bless her, Olivia Judson knows her english language and concludes:

The data are clear: beware your chair.

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