Can Using a Standing Desk Revolutionize Your Life?

Sarah B. Weir, Shine Senior Writer
Are we at a standing desk tipping point? (Getty images)
Are we at a standing desk tipping point? (Getty images)

Anyone who works in a large office has probably noticed colleagues' heads popping up over cubicle dividers like mushrooms sprouting as more and employees are switching to or jerry-rigging standing desks. The trend started a few years ago with mainly geeky tech types touting the benefits of standing at work and offering their DIY desk hacks online. It's become more mainstream as a number of studies were released showing the dire health consequences of being a couch-or office chair-potato. Our modern, sedentary lifestyle has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. One of the most surprising bits of research showed that regular vigorous exercise, long assumed to be a cure for the common office job, barely mitigated the health risks of sitting for long periods.

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On Tuesday, diet and exercise app developer Arshad Chowdhury, 37, posted a blog that may be the standing desk tipping point. It's been liked on Facebook nearly 2000 times and picked up by major news outlets such as Fox and the Daily Mail. "What Happens When You Stand for 2 Years" outlines Chowdhury's experience using a standing desk for about ten hours a day with only short breaks to "nap, eat, or meditate."

(courtesy Arshad Chowdhury)
(courtesy Arshad Chowdhury)

"I started out of curiosity," Chowdhury tells Yahoo! Shine. A couple of years ago he noticed that a number of colleagues at his shared workplace were starting to use standing desks. "It looked fun, they seemed to be more engaged with their work…I didn't realize until later a lot of the health benefits related to the standing desk. The first thing I noticed was my chronic back point went way."

In the blog, he describes how his posture also improved and his legs gained muscle mass. While he had some doubts and feared that standing would lead to musculoskeletal pain, decreased productivity, and increased exhaustion, none of those things happened. His blog concludes, "Overall, it has been wonderfully positive. After two years of doing it, I still heartily recommend a standing desk." He even recommends an affordably priced laptop stand.

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Which is one of the reasons Dr. Alan Hedge, an ergonomics professor at Cornell is slightly more skeptical about the whole fad. "It's a great new fashion for the furniture industry," Hedge told Yahoo! Shine. "They can make a lot of money out of it." He adds, "The evidence that they have amazing effects is just not there."

And Hedge says before you run out and buy a standing desk, you should be aware of the potential downside. "Absolutely there are risk factors with standing all day. The good news is, that it burns more calories-about 20 percent-the bad news is, that are cardiovascular risks, since the heart has to pump blood harder, and there is a significant increase in varicose veins, especially for women." He also points out that you need to be aware of your floor surface and invest in supportive footwear to avoid straining your musculoskeletal system.

What many promoters of standing desks fail to recognize is that the counterpoint to sitting still is moving, not standing. "Staying in any one position is not good for the body," said Hedge. "If you hold a muscle in the same position it's very fatiguing. Muscles need good supply of blood which you won't get unless you are moving."

"They key is to not sit for longer than an hour than a time and if can, take a break every 20 minutes; You'll see dramatic results in terms of musculoskeletal pain and also work productivity." Hedge described his own routine as a mix of sitting to do computer work, walking while on the phone or thinking, and standing to teach class.

Hedge doesn't discount standing desks altogether, and suggests if you want to try one, use a standing/sitting desk with a high chair and foot bar and alternate standing, sitting, and movement. Don't lean into your desk when standing, a common posture issue, and make sure you are reading at about eye level whether standing or sitting.

While he advocates using a standing desk, Chowdhury (who says he was surprised at the popularity of this particular blog post) also agrees in the benefits of moderation. "Doing too much of anything always has some negatives," he says. "The healthiest approach involves frequent breaks and going for a walk." Another recommendation? This dedicated stander is committed to his 20-minute nap each day and even invented a space-age-looking napping chair called the MetroNap EnergyPod. "The future of work is going to be in front of computers and we have to figure out a way to do that in a way that makes us healthy and happy."

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