Stand up desk

My Stand Up Desk Experiment

Earlier this year I read that that sitting at work is going to be our generation’s biggest health crisis, like our equivalent of smoking cigarettes, since sitting for a long time has been linked to cardio-vascular problems, obesity, and all-cause mortality rates. The same article says that replacing three or four hours of sitting time at work with standing burns about 50 more calories each hour. At the end of the year, this adds up to the equivalent of running 10 marathons, leading to eight pounds of fat burned!

Standing Up For Myself

I sit a lot at work most days – either in front of a computer or while commuting. On days when I sit a lot, I wouldn’t exactly say I feel energized at the end of the day. I mean, how do you feel after sitting for eight hours?

I also enjoy being healthy and put a lot of effort into it. What if sitting is worse than just a tiresome part of work? What if it causes significant health risks?

I decided about two months ago to give a stand up desk a try. A stand up desk is just like it sounds – it’s a higher desk that lets you stand up while working instead of sitting. You can go crazy buying a stand up desk (or even crazier with the stand up desk’s super awesome older brother, the treadmill desk), but most of you know that I’m too cheap for that. So I repurposed a pub table we weren’t using and turned it into my own custom, make-shift stand up desk.

Here’s what it looks like towering over my old sit-down desk:

Stand up desk
My make shift stand up desk, made out of a repurposed pub table.

The Experiment

I work about one no-travel office day each week, so I don’t get to use my stand up desk everyday. What I’ve been doing on office days is using the stand up desk for about six hours per day. I stand for about three hours in the morning, then I sit during my lunch break for about 30 minutes. I stand for about three more hours after lunch, before finishing my last few hours of the work day seated at the desk (using a bar stool).

In addition to standing for the six hours, I find myself fidgeting, calf-raising, and walking around a lot more on my standing office days. When I get a phone call or when I have to join a conference call, I pace all around my office, which adds up to a bunch of extra steps at the end of the day.

Also I’ve noticed how much I dislike my sitting habits when I’m not in my office. It tends to bother me now, probably because I have something to compare my sitting to. So if I’m at one of my other work locations, I’ll get up and walk around or chose standing more often now.

My Results

I have noticed the following benefits since I’ve been standing more and sitting less:

  1. Standing all day kind of feels like working out. On standing days, my leg and rear muscles are engaged the whole time I’m standing. During lunch and at the end of the day I feel like I’ve put in an honest day’s work on my feet and I’m happy to sit.
  2. My lower back and core/stability muscles are defiantly stronger. I’m doing less leaning and slouching, and not just while standing at work. I’m sitting straighter, and comfortably standing for longer periods of time with less leaning when I’m out and about at a restaurant or at my kid’s soccer game.
  3. Standing more may help with my weight management, but I’m not sure. I’ve had more cheat days than normal recently, and I’ve been able to maintain my weight. Normally my weight goes up if I don’t stick to a strict diet.
  4. My energy and engagement levels might be better on standing days. I do less yawning during my normal 1-3pm rut, and I don’t feel I need as much coffee.I also might get more work done, but I’m not sure about this either.

The Scientific Research on Sitting Versus Standing

Maybe you sit a lot and you think you should stand more. I figured my little experiment is probably not enough to persuade you, so I took the time to find you some scholarly articles which I’ve listed and linked below with some brief summaries on the benefits for standing versus sitting at work:

  1. Reducing Occupational Sitting Time and Improving Worker Health 
    1. Researches found that a 16.1% reduction (66 minutes per day) in sitting led to:
      1. DECREASED: Lower back pain, upper back and neck pain, fatigue, anger, tension, confusion, and depression
      2. INCREASED: Vigor, self-esteem, and time spent in face to face office interactions as a % of the workday
  2. Replacing sitting time with standing or stepping: associations with cardio-metabolic risk biomarkers
    1. A reduction of sitting by just 2 hours per day was associated with improved cardio-metabolic health:
      1. LOWER: Fasting plasma glucose, triglycerides, total/HDL cholesterol ratio
      2. HIGHER: HDL (good) cholesterol
  3. Sitting Time and All-Cause Mortality Risk
    1. This was the big study that probably started the recent standing desk crazy. Researchers concluded that prolonged sitting is a risk factor for all-cause mortality, independent of physical activity.
    2. People who sat for 11 hours or more per day were more likely to die than those who sat for 8 to 11 hours per day, who were in turn more likely to die than those who sat for 4 to 8 hours per day

The scientific evidence for whether or not to use a stand up desk is inconclusive and sometimes contradictory. For example, a slew of recent articles like this one have challenged the efficacy of stand up desks based on this study that found sitting time was not associated with all-cause mortality risk in 3700 people.

I actually took the time to read this contradictory study, something that I honestly don’t think the Huffingon Post writer Eliza Sankar-Gortan took the time to do. The researches used self-reporting questionnaires to determine the average amount of time the subjects spent sitting in a given week not just at work, but at home watching TV, driving in the car, and in all other leisure activities. This was not a study about sitting versus standing at work, and standing was not provided as an intervention to reduce sitting. And maybe more importantly, the study also states that their contradictory results may be explained by the fact that the London-based research subjects reported walking daily more than double the amount of time the average person in the UK spends walking.

Here’s what the researches fairly said about their limitations, something the pop-biz articles leave out:

“The public transport infrastructure in London is such that London-based employees are far likelier to stand (on buses and trains) or walk during their commute to work than those residing in other areas of the country.39 This is reflected in the mean reported daily walking time for the current sample (42.68 ± 22.60 min) which is over double the reported UK average (measured in the latter using an activity diary rather than a self-report questionnaire).40

While the research is not yet conclusive there is tons more evidence that not that sitting all day is defiantly not good for you and probably really bad for you.

Conclusion

The scientific community admits there is much more research to be done on this subject. And as with all of my experiments, my positive results might be from placebo, but I have no way of knowing for sure.

Intuitively, this experiment makes sense, don’t you think? I mean, sitting must be bad for you. Standing and engaging you leg muscles must be better than sitting. And walking around must be better than standing. Right?

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