You Don't Really Need a Standing Desk

September 16, 2016

For several years, standing desks have been growing in popularity, as headlines about the dangers of sitting have permeated the consciousness of office workers the world over.

So it came as something of a surprise to me when I glanced at the cover of the latest edition of Outside magazine and saw that one of this month's features was being billed as an explanation of "Why stand-up desks are a sham."

As it turns out, that's not exactly what the article shows—standing desks do have a role to play in helping to mitigate the health risks of excessive sitting. But the real crux of the article—which I haven't been able to locate on Outside's website as yet—is that the act of sitting isn't the whole problem; lack of movement is.

Of course, when you're sitting, you are by definition not moving your body. But standing still at a desk doesn't fully address that issue and, as the article notes, may lead to cardiovascular problems.

That’s something that Dr. James Levine, whose research at the Mayo Clinic first made the link between sitting and health problems, has known all along. Here's how he described the issue in an article for the Mayo Clinic website (emphasis added):

"The solution seems to be less sitting and more moving overall. You might start by simply standing rather than sitting whenever you have the chance or think about ways to walk while you work."

Note that "simply standing" is a starting point, not the whole solution. If that's not clear enough, here's what Levine had to say when Outside caught up with him for their article:

"It's not the furniture that makes the difference, it's the behavior […] the desk without the behavior doesn't help you." 

The rest of the Outside article was full of tips on how to increase your movement throughout the day, including taking trips to printers and water coolers that are further away, setting reminders to get up and move every so often, and using the stairs. But if there's one thing you should take away from it, it's that idea of sustained movement throughout the day. Basically, if your job involves sitting for extended periods of time: whether at a desk or behind a wheel, you're at higher risk for illness or death than someone who has a more active job—regardless of whether you're doing other exercise outside of working hours.

The solution, as Levine notes, isn't quite as simple as ordering a new desk, but it's not complicated either. So don't just remind yourself to get off your butt; make a commitment to move it as well.

by Phil Stott 

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