We’ve been told over and over that sitting too much is highly detrimental to your health. The reality is that many of us have to sit at a desk for much of the day, not to mention sitting while commuting in the car, sitting on that comfy couch to soak in our nightly guilty television show…you get the picture.
But does the fact that too much sitting is bad mean that investing in a standing desk is the best solution?
Standing desks have become an increasingly popular alternative to the traditional sitting desk and studies have shown they can be truly beneficial. However, no designated guidelines about best practices for using them actually exist. Standing desks can be advantageous health tools in the workplace and in your home office, but you should err on the side of caution when standing still for long periods. Here are seven questions that I frequently get about standing desks, answered.
1. Standing desks seem to be all the rage now. In your opinion, are they better than a normal desk?
Overall, standing desks are a great way to cut back on the amount of sitting we do. The key is really to change positions more frequently during the day, and in general, people are spending way too much time in a seated position. Standing more can improve blood flow, focus and take stress off of the neck and back.
2. Why do you think so many people are getting into the standing desk trend?
There has been a lot of media attention on the dangers of sitting for our overall health, so people are more motivated to make a change. We tend to be tied to our computers more and more, so a standing desk can be a good way to cut down on the amount of sitting but still remain productive.
3. If someone wants a standing desk what should they look for in one?
Choosing an option that is light and easily adjustable is important. It is also important to find something that fits within your desk space. Keep in mind if you will be using a mouse or other devices and how that might alter what type of surface you will need. Another consideration is cords. If you are plugged in you may need to consider extensions or other modifications to stay powered up.
4. Is it better to buy a standing desk or make your own?
For most people, buying something that is commercially available is the best bet, unless you are handy and are comfortable with some experimentation and trial and error in finding the right fit. There are many options available at all price points. You can consider a stationary option that sits on your existing desktop, or many people choose one on a stand with wheels so it can be mobile.
5. If you make your own, what are your recommendations as far as what it should have?
In general, you should have something high enough so the keyboard area rests about elbow level. When typing, it’s best for the elbows to be at 90 degrees of flexion. To decrease stress on the neck, the monitor should be at face level. This can be a challenge if you are using a laptop. An external keyboard or monitor is a great addition so that the screen can be higher than the work surface.
6. How long is too long to stand at a standing desk?
This is really dependent on the individual. It is important to start gradually, perhaps just 15 minutes at a time, and build up, alternating with time spent sitting throughout the day. Individuals with foot or knee issues may not be able to tolerate prolonged standing during the day. Some people with low back pain may prefer to stand. The key is listening to your body and switching positions periodically. Also, try to move around and take breaks to walk and stretch. As a rule of thumb, a 2:1 sitting to standing ratio during the day can work well for most people.
7. Can standing desks cause injury and if so what?
Most people can safely incorporate some standing into their day, provided good posture is maintained and some common sense considerations are kept in mind. Some people with knee or foot issues may find it hard to stand during the day. Buying an anti-fatigue mat to stand on can reduce discomfort and improve blood flow by encouraging lower extremity muscle activation while standing. Footwear should also be considered. High heels may be fine for the workday if you are mainly sitting, but flatter, more supportive shoes are best if standing is planned. Another option to make standing easier is using a small footstool. Alternating between standing on one leg and having the opposite foot on a stool can be a good way to avoid fatigue.
Chris Gabriel, PT, OCS, CSCS is a physical therapist based at the OrthoCarolina Wellness Center.