What are the dangers of sitting?
In the past a seated desk-job was an indication of having achieved a rare level of success in the corporate world. A reward for climbing the ladder into management.
During the industrial revolution (and for a long time after) most employment involved standing and walking for much of the day, often in factories or production environments.
These days even entry level office-workers spend their days sitting at desks and hardly a day goes by that a fitness magazine or a wellness news outlet doesn’t present a feature story about the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle.
Studies have linked excessive sitting to all manner of health concerns. A wide range of conditions that arise from inactivity are being blamed on our seated workdays. From increased risk of heart disease, to high blood pressure, to the ever-ominous and ever-vague ‘shortened lifespan’, there is no shortage of flashing warning signs connecting a life spent seated... and danger.
Can better chairs alleviate those dangers?
One of the main selling points of custom and ergonomic furniture is the rapid improvement most pain-suffering workers see in the areas of back and neck pain, pinched nerves and carpal tunnel syndrome. With that in mind it seems fair to consider that higher quality chairs may go a long way toward helping those of us who need to be in chairs to do our jobs feel a bit better about the prospect.
What about Sit-to-Stand desks?
The internet is abuzz with the ‘sitting is the new smoking’ movement, and the popular cure-all is sit-to-stand desks. There is some vocabulary confusion surrounding the subject, so let’s nip that in the bud from the start.
Sit-to-stand desks adjust up to standing height and down to sitting height as needed. Standing desks are working surfaces at about counter height that do not adjust.
Now that we know what we’re officially discussing, let's explore what they can do about health concerns created by working in a chair.
Officially… not much.
The health experts, the cardiac and orthopedic researchers and the fitness studies quoted in every article I’ve come across all agree on the simple fact that there isn’t enough evidence yet to make claims about what standing during our workday can do to make us healthier.
That being said, slowly transitioning to spending more of our day standing would undoubtedly be beneficial. So, unofficially… maybe a lot.
What are the advantages of standing desks?
Assuming you make the transition gradually, the benefits seem pretty compelling. Being able to raise your desk for a quick meeting to show off your project increases the likelihood of collaboration. Standing while working leads to taking more frequent breaks to stretch your legs, and is just uncomfortable enough to encourage more focused energy while actively performing tasks.
Standing burns more calories, a small benefit that adds up over time. The freedom to stretch and move improves our moods, leading to more engaged customer interactions. We tall people feel less cramped and wedged into our desks, and that pain reduction from neck and back issues is no joke.
So standing at work will make us healthier? That’s great news!
The average american office worker spends upwards of 70% of our time either in bed or at our desks. That’s a lot of time not standing. Our bodies don’t tend to react well to any massive shift in habits if they aren’t done carefully, and standing during the day is no exception.
Those who have attempted the transition whole hog, quitting chairs cold turkey in the pursuit of healthy office living, have almost all run into the same list of aches and pains.
- Swollen ankles
- Foot, leg and hip soreness
And depending on how much attention is paid to posture…
- New back and neck pain
All transitions involve discomfort. Do this one carefully and intentionally to avoid risking interesting new conditions.
These options sound expensive.
They do, but you may be surprised to find that they don’t always need to be. Adjustable-height desks run from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, with quality products at both ends of that spectrum. Custom, ergonomic furniture has a similar, though less lofty range of prices.
For the purposes of considering which option makes the most financial sense, consider that on the whole a desk is going to cost more than a chair. However, as the investments are similar, the factors that decide which way you’ll lean can be based on the needs of your office and workers more than on your wallet.
Not to mention that both of these options result in significant savings over time. Even moderate healthy changes in our lives lead to taking less sick days, being more active and engaged at work, suffering less accidental injuries and just generally being happier about being in the office.
Sounds like we have a choice to make.
Sit-to-stand desks and ergonomic furniture are both attractive paths to improving the health of our office-bound lives, but maybe choosing between them isn’t the right answer either.
Those researchers, the ones that aren’t allowed to officially say that standing is healthier than sitting, do agree on one pretty important point. Neither is a good idea 100% of the time. The most common recommendation is to spend roughly 50% of our time seated and standing, and to alternate every 30-60 minutes.
Most of the people in these studies were defaulting to a pattern of standing ~20% of the time, and still seeing marked improvement with chronic pains and habitual aches.
In that light, having options to stand while working doesn’t mean it’s time to toss the chairs in the bin just yet. The benefits being chased by either course of action are best served together, complimentary style.
Having a great place to sit would make a desk with a standing option that much more appealing.
Which would benefit your office?
Would desks allowing your co-workers to stand and share their projects speed up your deliverables? Would chairs designed with our bodies in mind make the morning meeting bearable? Do you have questions about how either of these could improve your company’s workspace? Drop us a line, we’d love to hear from you!