Standing desks considered harmful

Several studies have suggested that sitting all day is bad for you. So a growing number of people have decided to stand all day instead. This may not be any better, and may be worse. The Healthy Programmer quotes Dr. Alan Hedge saying that standing desks increase your risks of developing carotid atherosclerosis and varicose veins, and decrease your ability to carry out fine motor tasks.

I don’t know how much to make of Dr. Hedge’s remarks. I take most fitness studies with a grain of salt (which, by the way, some studies are saying isn’t bad for you after all). But it makes sense that it’s probably best not to sit all day or stand all day but to alternate your time sitting, standing, walking, and even spending some time in a hammock.

One simple way to move around more is to not sit in front of a computer when you’re not using a computer.

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14 thoughts on “Standing desks considered harmful

  1. I’ve been waiting for push back against standing desks. I have an adjustable height desk at work that I use at work. I usually only stand for about an hour when I start to get antsy after 3 or 4 hours of sitting. However, I find standing still quite hard on my lower back and feet. I know some say they adapt after doing it more.

  2. Nature did not intend for us to stand around stationary all the time. When we did stand, we walked, on varied terrain, stop and go, sometimes ran slowly, sometimes sprinted. We lay down. And our default resting stance was usually a squat, not either sitting or standing.

  3. Two years ago, for approximately seven months, I stood all day at my desk. In general I had no issues and found that it didn’t interrupt my normal activities. It did take about 2 months to fully acclimate to it. I now prefer to mix standing and sitting. I’ve always subscribed to the peripatetic school (Aristotle)of walking and thinking so I’m never sitting or standing still for long in any event. Lately I’ve been looking for an old style Indian Clerk desk so that I can experiment with sitting cross legged. I do this now on an ottoman and find it much easier on my hamstrings than the western sitting methods. I suspect a chimp squat might be even more beneficial but I don’t think I can pull that off with out too much attention coming my way.

  4. Yeah nature intended us to eventually break down and die, right? There are no silver bullets! I like my standing desk at work, but I spend probably 50% sitting at it in a tall chair or balancing on an exercise ball on my knees.

  5. I’m using an impromptu standing desk (box on the desk for the keyboard and trackball, monitors on top of the hutch rather than in it) and I’m happy enough with it, but I’m trying to take walks throughout the day (right now, just to the end of the hall and back when nuking lunch, but planning to start walking on the hour, too) because I know standing isn’t much of an improvement over sitting compared to walking or running. (Also trying to hit the gym after work more often.)

    I’m hitting foot issues, more ankle issues, but I know that they’re weak and pronated, and currently, I ascribe those issues and their decreasing severity to building up strength there. Haven’t had back issues at all.

  6. I’ve worked mostly standing up for a couple of years now. I also walk quite a lot (I enjoy it) but don’t do any organized exercize. A typical day — from getting up in the morning to going to bed at night — I stand or move around for about 60-65% of the time, and sit the rest of the time. That includes my (mostly standing and walking) commute on one hand; and sitting down for meals on the other.

    Like the article linked to above, I have my computer a fair bit higher than generally recommended, about at the level of the sternum. I started lower but found that very tiring. I also move about a lot while standing (“fidgeting in place” is proabably a better word).

    I have no negative effects of doing this so far. Feet, knees and so on are all fine. On the other hand, my chronic back pain is mostly gone now, and I have fewer headaches and less trouble with my wrists (shifting posture between standing at work and sitting at home is likely the reason, not standing by itself).

    Nowadays I usually take the stairs without thinking about it, and I don’t bother jostling for seats on the train, though I do sit down if there’s an empty seat in front of me. Various health indicators (blood pressure and so on) have improved over the past few years, but there’s no way to ascribe it to any particular reason; it can well be completely unrelated to this.

    If I develop problems from being on my feet so much I will of course moderate it. But unless or until I do, I see no reason at all not to continue.

  7. I’ve been sitting on a Zafu & Zabuton primarily for the last several years and find it to be effective. I generally alternate between various positions, and take frequent breaks to stretch, make coffee, or just generally pace.

  8. I haven’t seen any studies about this but I wouldn’t be surprised if standing offices have more interaction between coworkers. I suspect walking over to discuss design with someone is more likely to happen if you are both standing anyways. As you get tired throughout the day you at some point reach the “I’ll just send an email and hope no one responds today” level.

    I’ve been lucky to work jobs that needed a variety of stuff. Either IT with the occasional wandering around to load backup tapes, poke a hung server, run some network etc, or jobs that were half programming and half something else.

    I suspect the best solution isn’t one anyone wants to hear: we aren’t meant to stand/sit still operating a computer all day if we want to be healthy our jobs need to involve movement and rest.

  9. I’ve recently switched to Colin Nederkoorn’s “IKEA Hackers” style standing desk, but I kept my sitting desk as well. I can usually go a few hours before sitting, but I definitely agree with you John: alternating is the way to go. Thanks for the find.

  10. I often exchange my desk chair at home for a large cube seat / ottoman. It has just the right height to work in a floor sitting posture, such as squatting, the Japanese seiza position or the Lotus position. I alternate between these positions every few minutes in order to avoid cramping, which keeps me moving around and does wonders for my back and leg muscles. I’ve found that it also improves my digestion. I think that alternating between different floor sitting positions might just be the most natural and healthy resting behavior for humans. It definitely feels more natural than prolonged standing, while avoiding the health problems associated with prolonged sitting.

  11. For some reason Professor Hedge seems to have somewhat misrepresented the study. I pulled it up, and it appears (I am not a scientist) to say that there may be a significant increase in progression of heart disease (up to 9 times) for men who already have heart disease. The studies on healthy populations either found a much smaller risk or no statistically significant correlation at all. As quoted by the press, Hedge omits the fact that the study suggests it’s a risk really only for those with heart disease already—and not necessarily an independent risk factor for otherwise healthy persons.

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