We had a discussion at work recently about how much we sit, standing desks, treadmill desks, etc. So I did about 90 minutes of searching and came up with the following digest of items that I thought covered the topic fairly well. This will be my starting point if the topic comes up again in the future. Bottom-line: Variety is the spice: mix standing and sitting, don’t do too much of either, move regularly. I was surprised by the observations from some writers about the types of work best done sitting vs. standing.
We’ve spent hundreds of hours over the past three years testing 13 standing desks. The $700 Ergo Depot Jarvis is the best for most people. It’s as sturdy and reliable as a high-end desk, but sells for half the price and comes with a seven-year warranty—compare that to the typical one to three years its competitors offer. It ships faster, too.
If you use a standing desk, you should also be using an anti-fatigue mat. This will provide support for your feet and relieve pressure on your heels, back, legs, and shoulders, which in turn helps you stand for longer. After hours of research and weeks of foot-on testing, we recommend the Imprint CumulusPro for just under $100. We found it was the most supportive out of the dozens considered and nine tested. What’s more, it won’t offgas toxic chemicals, has a ten-year warranty, and feels great to stand on. And in a panel test several months after this article was first posted, every Wirecutter editor who tested our top contenders chose the Imprint CumulusPro as their favorite.
First-person lessons learned
As it turns out, you must check your posture constantly and move around, whether you sit or stand at work, because standing all day can be as bad as prolonged sitting. A 2005 longitudinal study in Denmark found that the incidence of hospitalizations due to varicose veins was higher among those who stand or walk at least 75 percent of their time at work. … Of course, nurses and factory workers have known this for some time, but it seems to be largely forgotten in the stand-up-desk trend.As for me, my doctor’s diagnosis of my leg pains did not prompt me to dismantle my stand-up desk. Now I follow my body’s cues. When I begin to feel lethargic or my neck or shoulders bother me, I shift to standing, and almost immediately my muscles relax and I feel more energized. If my legs or feet later begin to ache, I’ll take the experts’ advice and elevate one foot or plop into my chair. And I try to move a lot more in general — doing shoulder rolls, shaking out my limbs, walking to chat instead of e-mailing, or visiting the water fountain down the hall.
- Don’t switch straight to a standing desk; make the transition gradually. I’ve actually got my old desk set-up plus a separate desk on which I have the equipment that allows me to stand while I work. I just switch my laptop and wireless mouse and keyboard over to my new desk when I want to work standing up, but I can still sit when I need to.
- Standing too much is just as bad as sitting, which is one reason why it’s a good idea to mix it up. If your lower back gets tired from standing, sit down again to work, or stretch it out.
- I thought I wouldn’t be able to write while standing, but that’s been fine, although it took a bit of getting used to because I was so accustomed to thinking while sitting. Standing to think is actually quite effective because you’re moving around, which for some reason keeps your brain awake.
- The main message is to try out what works for you and don’t think you have to do everything standing.
If a standing desk works for you, that’s great. But if it doesn’t, don’t force it?—?especially if it negatively impacts your work. Standing while working might not be for you. It wasn’t for me. And that’s okay. Standing for long periods of time isn’t much better than sitting anyway.The key is to do some activity every day. It doesn’t have to be a five-mile sprint. A walk to and from work, taking the stairs, or some squats while you’re waiting for your lunch can be enough to do the trick.
From the testing camps
There was one result that we all found to be true.While standing, you feel a sense of urgency which causes you to be focused on the completion of tasks. This works ideally when you’re working with tasks where you know what the outcome should be, and it’s just a matter of completing it. [Also helps counteract the 3pm food coma.]However, for tasks which require a creative approach—for example, thinking about a possible coding solution, or writing a great article—then the urgency provided by standing is more of a hindrance. We found that for creative tasks, sitting and not paying attention to your corporal self was helpful in letting your mind wander and explore creative options.
A new study finds students with standing desks are more attentive than their seated counterparts. Preliminary results show 12 percent greater on-task engagement in classrooms with standing desks.
From the skeptical camp
Common sense should prevail in these discussions. If you have the luxury of choice and stand rather than sit at your job, you’re probably healthier because you’re probably more health conscious in other parts of your life. You will burn more calories and exert more effort in standing if nothing else. And you’re probably going to be stressed out, depressed along with the physical factors that result from standing or sitting all day if you’ve got little choice in the matter [ie, postal delivery or assembly line workers, who stand and move all day and are not appreciably healthier due to more stressful jobs]. Reports that draw these very loose correlations to activities like sitting certainly do not merit extreme changes in lifestyle. If your job allows you the freedom to do so, I would think the best response would be a combination of sitting and standing throughout the day, rather than favoring the extreme.Feel free to sit down and relax though, it’s not going to kill you.