Americans spend around 7.5 hours a day sitting at work. Can sit-stand desks help reduce the associated health risks?
On average, Americans spend up to 13 hours a day sitting, with around 7.5 hours spent sitting at work.
These numbers are unlikely to surprise those of you who work at a desk all day. Though we know we should take regular breaks, get up and move around, the demands and distractions of work often push such knowledge to the back of the mind.
As a result, we spend the majority of the work day firmly planted in our chairs, and at times, even lunch fails to draw us away from our desks.
But as you are probably well aware, such behavior is not healthy.
A more recent study further supported the link between prolonged sitting and poor health, suggesting that sitting for more than 3 hours a day is responsible for more than 430,000 deaths.
While the obvious solution to reduce the risk of what many health professionals are calling "sitting disease" is to move more, this can prove challenging in the workplace. A possible solution? Sit-stand desks.
What are sit-stand desks?
Sit-stand desks are simply desks that can be adjusted to enable employees to work while sitting down or standing up.
The idea of standing desks is certainly not new, with the workstations dating back centuries. It is believed that Leonardo Da Vinci used a standing desk while painting the infamous Mona Lisa, while Thomas Jefferson is believed to have been one of the first people to use a height-adjustable standing desk.
In recent years, standing workstations have regained popularity, largely due to an increased focus on the negative health implications of prolonged sitting.
And it seems that many Americans are willing to sit less and stand more during the work day, with a 2010 poll from market research firm Ipsos revealing that 67% of full-time employees surveyed wished their employers offered sit-stand workstations.
But do these desks really encourage us to stand more, helping to reduce the potential health risks of sedentary behavior?
One of the most popular manufacturers of sit-stand desks - Varidesk - kindly sent MNT one of their offerings to test, and I was the lucky candidate.
Varidesk: the Pro Plus 36 sit-stand workstation
Everyone here at the MNT office will admit they should get up and move around more during the working day, so I was excited about receiving a sit-stand desk, in the hope that it would encourage just that.
The Varidesk Pro Plus 36 is a two-tiered, height-adjustable workstation with a spring-assisted lift mechanism.
Image credit: Varidesk
The workstation I tested is Varidesk's Pro Plus 36. Priced at $395, the desk consists of a spring-assisted lift mechanism that enables the user to adjust it to the height required.
The Pro Plus 36 can hold up to 35 Ibs (15.8 kg) and is two-tiered, making it a good option for those with dual monitors, still leaving enough space for a keyboard and mouse.
One thing to note is that the desk is not a full workstation in itself; it is designed to sit on top of an existing desk, which makes it ideal for offices with built-in workstations.
The desk could not be easier to set up. It is simply a case of removing it from the box and placing it where required. After doing just that, I was ready to embark on a 2-week sit-stand challenge.
Standing 9-5: it's all taking and no giving
If you're used to sitting down for the majority of the work day, suddenly standing for hours can take its toll.
Unfortunately, I found this out the hard way, attempting to stand from 9-5 on the first use of the Pro Plus 36.
By the end of the day, my feet were crying out for help, and it was a relief to get home, sit down and take the weight off.
The next day, I decided to take a more sensible approach; I sat for the first 2 hours, stood for 30 minutes, sat for a further 2 hours, and so on. In total, I stood for around 2 hours of the working day. I found this much more manageable.
Varidesk recommend a similar technique, suggesting that a user should raise and lower their desks gradually for 1 month to reach a reasonable standing-time goal. Once this goal is reached, they recommend increasing standing time gradually over the next 3-4 months.
The importance of good posture
In terms of comfort, I found the transition to a sit-stand desk challenging. Being a notorious sloucher when sitting down, I found myself unconsciously leaning on the desk while working when standing up, which resulted in back pain.
This does not reflect the desk itself, but rather the importance of adopting a good posture both when sitting and standing.
According to the Mayo Clinic, when sitting at your desk, your body should be centered in front of your monitor and keyboard. You should sit up straight, and your thighs should be horizontal with your knees and at the same level as your hips. Your forearms should be level or slightly tilted up.
When standing, you should stand upright with your feet flat on the floor, and your elbows should be level with your wrist. The top of your monitor should be at or just below eye level.
An anti-fatigue mat may help with the transition to a standing desk. This can offer support to the feet and alleviate the pressure of standing on the back, legs and shoulders.
On the next page, we look at the possible health benefits and risks of standing at work.