To stand or not to stand is the kind of thought that goes into designing an office. Though, the question of whether to build standing desks or sitting desks by now is more a question of health vs convenience. As humans, we’ve been accustomed to sitting in an office since the 18th century. Throughout history, most endeavors that require thinking and writing, or any other official function is associated with a chair. Think of a throne or a judge’s chair. Sitting down to perform a task that requires our brain and our fingers is so ingrained in us that we hardly think about why we do it.
But should our health be sacrificed for the convenience of sitting? Before we tackle the many detriments to one’s health that results from prolonged sitting, we should address the basic fact that our body tells us we’re not supposed to sit for long periods of time. Rarely can someone sit still for long periods of time without fidgeting or shifting their thighs. Architect and writer Witold Rybczynski wrote in The Paris Review that, “We don’t sit still—we fidget, we shift our weight, even if ever so slightly, crossing our legs and arms, moving our cramped muscles. We interact with our chairs: we sit on them, lean back and lean forward, and often perch on the edge of our seats. We wrap our leg around our chair’s leg; we sling one arm across its back, or a leg across its arm…We are good at walking and running, and we are happy lying down when we sleep. It is the in-between position that is the problem.”
The problems of sitting
The least of the problems for a habitual sitter is a wedgie; in fact, the detrimental effects of sitting, according to research, is more in line with smoking. A study that analyzed a million people found that those who sat eight hours a day had a risk of dying like that of obesity and smoking. Below are some of the negative effects of sitting.
- You’re more likely to get heart disease by sitting. When comparing bus conductors, who stand, to bus drivers, who sit, British researchers discovered that bus drivers contracted heart diseases at a much higher rate than conductors. This finding corroborates recent research that shows a correlation between sitting and heart-related diseases.
- Since prolonged sitting increases your chances of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, and cholesterol, it also increases your risk for dementia.
- Sitting too long can cause blood clots to form. These clots can break up and effect your lungs, heart, and brain.
- Invariably, long periods of inactivity can lead to weight gain if it’s not offset with exercise and a proper diet.
- Bad sitting posture only compounds the problems one can face from sitting for too long. Lower back pain, neck pain, and various ailments can ensue.
*Negative health effects sourced from WebMD
The benefits of standing
Now here’s where we tell you that standing desks are far better by sitting desks by expounding some of its virtues. But it should still be noted that sitting desks aren’t a substitute for daily exercise. Standing for long periods of time without moving can also be harmful to your body. You can think about the physical progression in this way as it relates to your heart: standing is better than sitting, walking is better than standing, jogging is better than walking, and running is better than jogging.
That said, standing is a great first step towards avoiding a chair. A study published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology in 2018 revealed that someone standing as opposed to sitting six hours a day would burn 54 more calories than the sitting person.
Research spearheaded by Dr. Elizabeth Garland shows that height adjustable desks are linked to increased productivity and health. The peer reviewed study was conducted over a 12 month period. One of the biggest key findings was that the people who received standing desks reported a 17% reduction in sitting. This reduction then implicitly reduces many of the harmful effects that sitting has.
A Happy Balance
This blog focuses on the ecosystem of coders, who’ve been stereotyped as sedentary screen addicts. That, in fact, could not be further from the truth. One can argue that startups are leading the standing revolution. From my experience, having attended a coding bootcamp that mimicked a progressive work culture, using standing desks provided a fresh reprieve from the monotony of sitting for hours on end trying to overcome problems. Using a standing desk made me feel less tied down and more in control.
Whether a standing desk increases productivity is certainly debatable; a recent study that used students as a population did not show any noticeable differences in test performances. That being said, we can’t ignore the mental and physical health benefits that standing desks have over sitting desks. Still, just because standing desks are better, that does not mean that sitting desks have to be eradicated. Adjustable desks are a great way to give workers the choice to sit or stand.
In terms of office design, it may be even better to create a standing and a sitting section so that workers are reminded of the option to stand. During my stint at the bootcamp, I found myself gravitating towards the standing desks. You’d be surprised how quickly those spots start becoming hot commodities as workers actually start to feel the benefit of cutting down on sitting time. The sitting desks would then be useful for resting and vice versa.
In the end, it is better to tackle the “sea of troubles” that sitting washes down on us by standing up rather than sitting and suffering the “slings and arrows” of our increasingly sedentary lifestyle.