Health Technology

The Truth About Standing Desks

The Truth About Standing Desks

Most of us have heard the phrase, “Sitting is the new smoking”. It’s no secret that prolonged sitting and inactivity are associated with greater health risks. For office workers, there are also injury risks to consider. 42% of the work force has experienced working from home since the pandemic (Stanford News, 2020) and many of these workers report being impacted by neck and back pain during this transition.

So what does that mean for each of us? Should we rush out and buy an adjustable sit stand desk? After all they are usually more expensive than a conventional fixed desk aren’t they?

The answer to this question all depends on you and the work that you do. Personally I like the idea of being able to change postures frequently and stand for comfort. But remember this: Static standing is NOT a substitute for static sitting. Standing is also not the calorie burning solution that manufacturers would like us to believe. Static standing burns only slightly more calories than sitting. To burn off the calories of approximately one apple, one would have to stand a full 8-10 hour day at their desk, which can be quite uncomfortable.

The take away point here is that no matter what type of desk you use, one of the most important things you can do for your health and comfort is to take frequent movement breaks. Movement may include walking, stretching at your desk or light to vigorous exercise. This is the only way to burn more calories or to improve blood flow throughout your body. A short 30 minute walk on your lunch break can burn up to 100 extra calories per day as can three 10 minute walking breaks. Movement is also very important for stimulating lymphatic circulation, the flow of fluids throughout your body so that they do not stagnate and pool in areas such as the legs and feet.

It is recommended that you set a timer on your phone, computer or watch for movement breaks every 15-30 minutes, lasting up to at least two minutes. This includes walking to get a drink, to the restroom, to meet with a coworker, walking up and down a flight of stairs, or
remaining at your desk and performing a couple of stretches or breathing exercises. If you can only break each hour, then enjoy a longer 5-10 minute movement break.

Some of my clients confess to me that they have a standing desk and no longer remember to use it for standing. That’s why I recommend that anyone considering a standing desk first develop a habit of taking the recommended movement breaks throughout the day. Then, if a standing desk is still desired, the client will be more committed to using it properly for a worthwhile investment.


So why buy an adjustable sit stand desk?

Many clients find that adjustable height standing desks are worth the cost, especially with prices lowering for home models:

1. Extra tall workers may have a hard time finding a high enough desk so that their legs fit underneath when sitting. An adjustable height desk is a great solution; however, a taller person must make sure that the standing desk also raises high enough for proper standing posture. Look for an extra tall model or extension kit and take measurements to ensure fit.

2. Extra short workers need a tall enough chair and foot rest to prevent uphill reaching to the keyboard. A lower desk surface can make this easier. Make sure any adjustable height desk has adequate lowering ability.

3. The ability to stand and stretch can be a lifesaver for workers who perform intensive, focused work for long hours or those who are unable to leave their desk due to frequent calls or videoconferences.

4. Workers who have circulatory issues, severe low back discomfort or require medical accommodations often benefit from postural changes and the ability to dial in the correct desk height.

The Verdict

While adequate comfort can often be achieved at a fixed desk with frequent movement breaks, many find that comfort is more easily achieved with an adjustable height standing desk. One desk size does not fit all. With prices of some adjustable standing desks lowering to within
$200 of regular desks, they are a great option for:

✓ Long intensive days and highly focused work
✓ Certain medical or back pain issues
✓ Customized desk height and fit: The ability to make the desk fit you instead of trying to make your body fit a desk that is too tall or short

Be Sure to Use a Standing Desk Correctly

If you choose an adjustable height standing desk, adjust or program the proper sitting and standing heights. The keyboard surface should be level with or slightly below your forearms with elbows bent to 90 degrees as seen in the following image.

Most new standing desk users make the mistake of trying to stand too long, thinking more is better. They develop fatigue and discomfort in the feet, legs and low back. In fact, standing can actually become more uncomfortable than sitting. Recommended standing time is no longer than 15-30 minutes 1-2 times per hour. Limit your standing time to 30% of your day unless a medical condition requires you to stand longer. Sit back down when you begin to feel fatigue or discomfort. If you have any health conditions that might be affected, consult your healthcare provider before beginning a standing regimen for work.


And finally, make sure you commit to movement breaks and stretching the same way you would at any fixed desk.
✓ Do you need help deciding if an adjustable height standing desk is right for you?
✓ Do you need help figuring out what desk to get and what height you need?
✓ Do you need help finding a quality desk to fit your budget?
I am happy to help and to save you time and money!

Ergonomic Consultant

Wong, M. (2020, June 20). Stanford research provides a snapshot of a new working-from-home economy. Stanford News.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to provide or replace any medical or healthcare treatment or advice nor is it intended to diagnose or treat any conditions.  Always consult with your physician/healthcare provider first if you have any questions, concerns, medical conditions or risk factors and before attempting any new exercise(s).

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