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Exercise & Fitness
The truth behind standing desks
- By Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
Spinal injuries and spinal compression are another reason to incorporate standing into what would normally be a sitting-all-day work routine. Standing all day can have its drawbacks – ask a grocery cashier – like anything done for prolonged periods of time. I have benefited from being able to both sit and stand in my work place and physically could not continue to work if I were not able to stand at a computer. While some people may look to standing desks as a kind of “diet fad”, they are very beneficial for those of us with spinal injuries or other restrictions that even regular exercise cannot mitigate.
very good article
All of this is basically unnecessary if people actually did some exercise at relatively high intensity. This can be as simple as rapid stair climbing within an established protocol, or more formal interval and/or resistance training in a gym or health club. The time required is not very much and this only is two or three times per week plus some walking on other days and every hour or so standing up for a few minutes while working. And, the benefits of actual exercise far surpass a standing desk or treadmill desk.
I lost 50 pounds in less than 18 months using an under-the-desk treadmill as my main tool, building up from 0.6 mph (difficult) to a joyous and more comfortable 1.6 mph. I can type at 1.8 mph (up to 2.2 if just word processing as opposed to spreadsheets where 1.4-1.6 seems to be the comfortable max) and speak easily at 2.8. Handwriting requires not walking. For the first nine months I did not change my diet and did no other exercise … and lost the first 30 of those 50 pounds. I question the parsimonious mathematical assessments: 200 calories per hour (your number) for one hour per day x 17.5 days = 3,500 = one pound = more than 13 pounds per year for 240 work days … and that’s not accounting for weight and how many steps constitutes one calorie at varying weights (one might consider the Step Diet, at least for comparison sake), which could raise (or lower) that number. Still, 13 pounds is 13 pounds, and the benefits described don’t account for incrementally-improved metabolic rate (every percent counts), along with all the other incremental benefits each micro-improvement makes. The Journal you cite may be narrowly correct, but its analysis is woefully incomplete. The entire feed-forward mechanism is omitted. A stand-up desk is not a panacea, nor a single-source solution (indeed, it can create foot and back problems) but it is an important tool the benefits of which go well beyond the mere direct weight loss it may provide. Similarly for under-desk bicycles or peddlers. (I do not have any beneficial interest in any companies providing such products — I just know what has worked for me and for many of my clients.)
What do you think about back and neck issues, from sitting all day? Could the standing in the office impact these issues positively?
Most certainly yes. I started standing part time after having a constantly tight neck and shoulder pain that I was about to see an orthopedist for. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, so I didn’t want to spend much money. I found Readydesk for $160 and then built a similar one out of wood as a hobby.
The results have been great! Having different posture options quickly cured my shoulders and neck without causing back issues. I do about half standing and half sitting. I bought wireless computer peripherals to make switching easier. I totally recommend trying standing for anyone with desk ergonomics issues!
I’ve read sitting for hours is the “NEW” smoking. Also, the calorie thought is based on the calories in and calories out approach. How do we measure the approach to standing with the type of calories consummed? I.E. a person using a standing desk doing LCHF vs a Vegan, vs a calorie counter?
Very interesting article. From your numbers, standing burns an extra 8 calories per hour over sitting. This equates to 320 calories a week, or about 5 pounds of fat a year.
And it may also become a catalyst and tipping point for further positive health behaviours as part of an organisational wellbeing program
Dr Mark Rowe
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