Our ability to stand upright is a crowning achievement of human evolution (along with opposable thumbs and the ability to make pizza). Yet as more and more of us find ourselves attached to a computer during the workday, our once-proud postures are turning into seated slumps. Here are 10 reasons why you might want to consider using a standing desk at work (if distinguishing yourself from our hairy, hunched, knuckle-dragging ancestors isn’t enough).
A study that analyzed 123,216 survey responses over the course of 13 years uncovered some disturbing information. Women who sit for more than six hours per day were more likely to die during the study than their more active peers. For men, the mortality rate for six-hour sitters was 18 percent higher. Another study showed that people who sit for the majority of their day are 54 percent more likely to die from heart attacks. Yet according to the Mayo Clinic, 50 to 70 percent of us spend six or more hours a day sitting. Fortunately, using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, it was found that simply by cutting your amount of sitting time in half (to less than three hours per day), you can extend your life expectancy by approximately two years. Reduce TV time to less than two hours a day, and you’ll add another 1.4 years onto your life.
Researchers at the Muscle Biology and Imaging Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts conducted an interesting study. They placed 4-inch platform shoes on the right feet of a group of men and had them walk around using crutches. The result was that their left legs got very little use. After just two days, genetic changes occurred in the unused legs that indicated a disruption in normal DNA repair functions. Other problems included a rise in oxidative stress (the process that can lead to cancer and Alzheimer’s disease) and a lowering of insulin response. Standing keeps your leg muscles activated and fights off these changes.
Not only will standing help keep damaging biochemical processes from happening in your legs, it can keep your entire body health. According to Dr. Hidde van der Ploeg, a senior research fellow at the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health in Australia, “Prolonged sitting has been shown to disrupt metabolic function resulting in increased plasma triglyceride levels, decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and decreased insulin sensitivity” (as reported in Time Magazine’s Healthland). In layman’s terms, this means the longer you sit, the more you increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Sitting for extended periods of time has also been shown to raise stroke and cancer risks and to shut down a fat-absorbing enzyme called lipase.
Standing burns 60 more calories an hour than sitting. For an average workday, subtracting an hour for lunch, that’s an extra 420 calories per day, or 2100 per week that you’ll torch just by standing up. When you stand, you also tend to fidget more, putting something called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (or NEAT) to work for you, which causes an even greater calorie burn. Additionally, it has been proven that a sitting person has a stalled metabolic rate close to that of an anesthetized patient, while standing gets your body revving along like someone who is very much alive and healthy. Still another benefit reported by those who switch to a standing is desk is that they wind up eating less throughout the day, thereby decreasing total caloric intake.
There’s no hard science on this one, but there are many firsthand accounts from standing-desk aficionados who report feeling more energized at their vertical workstations. And it makes sense. Standing up is your body’s signal that something worthy of your attention is happening (think about those cute critters standing at attention on Animal Planet’s Meerkat Manor). Conversely, sitting tells your body it’s time to relax. So it “stands” to reason that by remaining upright throughout your day, you’ll stay more alert. It simply harder to fall into that post-lunch slump while on your feet. And you may even find yourself walking around the office more, as you won’t have to overcome the gravity of your chair before moving about.
When you’re standing at work, it’s simply harder to waste time checking Facebook or playing solitaire. Part of the reason is that your monitor will now be in clear view of supervisors and co-workers, but the real reason is that when you’re standing, it feels more like you mean business. You’re at your workstation to perform a specific task and not to waste time on anything that keeps you from getting that task accomplished. You’ll also likely be able to see your coworkers over the walls of their pods and may even be able to have conversations with them rather than sending all those emails that inevitably require follow-up.
Although you might experience some discomfort during your first few weeks of standing at work, eventually most upright office jockeys report a decrease in—or total elimination of—back and neck pain. That’s because a common contributor to these types of discomfort is that fact that, while sitting and working at a computer, you tend to hunch forward, putting your spine out of alignment and placing undue stress on your muscles and joints. Standing alleviates this stress.
When you stand at work, you encourage your own body to support itself rather than relying on a chair to do the job for you. This results in a stronger core that helps you develop a better posture, improves balance, and ups your ability to avoid injuries in daily life.
Researchers at Tel Aviv University have discovered that sitting for long periods of time puts pressure on cells known as preadipocyte cells. The result? They turn to fat and produce even more fat in the body, ultimately leading to a bigger backside. Standing prevents this process and also provides toning to the all important gluteus maximus muscles.
Although it might seem like standing desks are a new phenomenon (office furniture maker Steelcase reports that its sales of stand-up desks are growing at four times that of regular desks), the concept actually goes back at least until the late 1800s. Some of the famous users of an upright desk include Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens and Ernest Hemingway. If it worked for them, just thing about the “heights” of creativity and inspiration you might meet when you rise from your chair!