Q. Can you comment on the whole concept of stand-up desks? I know that sitting is the new smoking. Is it just a matter of standing at my desk (with everything elevated)? Or is there more to it than that? What exactly is it about standing with minimal other movement that is so much healthier than sitting? –Erin
A. Thank you, Erin, for the excellent question! Stand-up desks have become increasingly more popular during the last several years. The latest research indicates that sitting for more than two hours at a time can significantly lessen your life span. The real headline should be: Even if you are a regular exerciser, sitting for more than two hours a day will still lower your life span. The take home message is that frequent movement throughout the entire day is critical for health. A stand-up desk could be beneficial if you follow these simple guidelines:
- Do not stand still. Standing still for long periods of time is as equally hard on the body (particularly in the lower lumbar, knees, ankles, and feet) as sitting. It can cause negative effects in the joints as well as cause circulation issues. Use a foot stool and frequently shift your weight and stand in different positions. Modify your position at least every five minutes.
- Do not stand on a hard surface. Standing on a hard surface all day is not natural. Our native environment is full of softer surfaces such as dirt, sand, bark, and grass. Rarely would someone stand on a large section of concrete or granite without moving. Instead, I recommend standing on a rubber mat similar to the one a grocery store cashier may utilize in order to take the strain off of the low back and the joints of the lower extremities.
- Get a treadmill desk. Walking all day long isn’t practical. An excellent way to keep moving (without excessive strain or fatigue) would be to have a treadmill on which you could slowly walk on as you work for several hours per day. The treadmill desk would allow you to keep moving and maintain a higher metabolic rate without excessive strain (as long as it is kept at a slow pace).
- Do not stand all day. Standing all day isn’t any better than sitting all day. The key to optimize your health is frequent moving. A desk that can be adjusted to sit or stand would be ideal. If you can combine it with a treadmill desk, then you would have the ultimate work station. When sitting at a desk, I recommend using a large Thera-Band exercise ball. The exercise ball provides you with the benefit of more movement while you work on your postural and core muscle development.
- Go barefoot. We spend so much of our day in shoes that our feet forget what it is like to be unsupported and to actually feel the ground, which helps with balance to support our bodies. I recommend standing barefoot when possible and appropriate. If lower extremity swelling is an issue for you, then you may need an over-the-counter compression sock. Vitalsox Graduated Compression Socks can help you manage the swelling in your feet and can help prevent conditions such as spider veins or varicose veins.
When standing or sitting, pay close attention to your posture. Slouching while sitting or standing can cause pain and eventually, dysfunction. My Top 8 Stretches to Eliminate Neck, Upper Back, and Shoulder Pain, full of photos and exercise instructions, can help you maintain good posture in sitting or standing.
What are your experiences in dealing with stand-up desks or treadmill desks? Are you intrigued to try one? Feel free to leave your comments below.
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