What is a standing desk and what are the benefits?

standing desk

A standing desk is designed similarly to a standard office-style desk with the exception of allowing the worker to stand up comfortably while working.  The worker can adjust the height of the desk to match their own height and alternate the setting between sitting and standing for comfort.  There are many benefits to using a standing or adjustable sit stand desk ranging from calorie burning to reduced back pain and improved mood.  These benefits counteract the often harmful effects which come from sitting down for long periods of time and can have a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of an individual.  

Standing desks offer an alternative to the sedentary style of work which is brought on by sitting-desks.  Sitting down for long periods of time slows down the rate at which the body burns calories which increases the likelihood of weight gain and this can have negative impacts on the body’s health.  Conversely, using a standing desk can lower the blood sugar levels in the body which can significantly improve the health of the individual, especially those with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes.  After a meal blood sugar levels return to the baseline rate significantly faster during days in which a person spends more time standing compared to days spent more time sitting on an office chair.

The musculoskeletal benefits of using a standing desk can help with one of the most common complaints of office workers: back pain.  Several studies have proven the positive effects of standing desks against back pain, particular studies demonstrating 32% improvement in lower back pain after several weeks of using standing desks and 54% reduction in upper back pain after 4 weeks of using a standing desk.  However it is worth noting that these musculoskeletal benefits are acquired with the use of correct posture and so using standing desks alone is not sufficient to stop the worsening of back pain.  

If the worker stands with the correct posture (standing up straight and centre with feet below the hips, tucking in the tailbone and pushing the shoulders back, keeping the head held high but with the chin parallel to the floor) then they will benefit from not only the avoidance of back pain but also improved muscle toning and a raised metabolism, contributing to the increased rate of calorie burning and limit to weight gain.

The benefits of using a standing desk are not limited to physicality and the positive effects on mood and wellbeing are well noted.  A longer study reported that participants who used a standing desk for 7 weeks noted less stress and fatigue than those who were seated throughout the day and that these standing participants were more likely to experience increased energy levels than their sitting counterparts. Once these individuals returned to their seated desks their moods also returned to their previous states, indicating that it is the active vs sedentary change which is driving these differing mood levels. 

These effects on mood can have positive impacts on the mental health of a worker compared to sitting-desks which encourage a sedentary style of work and which can lead to increased levels of depression and anxiety.  Although it is not well evidenced, it is possible that the boosted energy and mood levels which come from standing could have a positive impact on productivity.  

It is clear that the use of standing desks does not have a negative impact on a worker’s productivity and so the impacts of using a standing desk are either beneficial or neutral.  Studies have indicated that participants who use a standing desk have produced work to equal standards as their sitting counterparts while the potential positive impacts of raised mood on productivity seem to make the uncertain difference in performance worth the transition for senior managers.

The elevation of workers to a standing position has the potential to elevate diverse areas of workers’ lives: physical health, musculoskeletal health as well as mental health.  The improvement to overall health is clearly a significant benefit to the individual worker while these benefits also have the potential to have a positive impact on the productivity of the wider organisation. This is why more companies are investing into ergonomic office furniture. It is an area that all businesses need to invest in. The benefits of ergonomic furniture outweighs the cost. Even though standing desks can be costly, it is a worthy investment.

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