The Health Benefits of Standing Desks
Standing desks are all the rage these days — and for a very good reason. The average office worker sits in a desk chair for 7.5 hours every day. Add that to the amount of time spent lounging on the couch in front of the television, sitting down and eating meals, commuting to and from work and lying in bed for a full night’s sleep, and that can easily equate to a mere three hours of being active in one 24-hour period. Prolonged sitting has been related to an increased risk of heart disease, weight gain, diabetes and premature death. But proponents of standing desks rave that all of these conditions, and many more, can be prevented with the use of a standing desk.
The Various Types of Standing Desks
According to Dr. Josh Zumstein, D.C., M.S., author of “Secrets to Preventing Neck and Back Pain,” a standing desk refer to a desk that allows the user to stand the entire time he or she works at a desk. “Standing desks can also mean a treadmill desk, which is a desk mounted on a treadmill,” Zumpstein explains, noting that an office worker using a standing desk would set up their computer so that the monitor is at eye level.
He adds that traditional standing desks do not typically raise or lower, however, sit-stand desks allow the tabletop to raise or lower so workers can sit or stand as they please. These are a great tool for those looking to split their time behind their desk in a seated or standing position, which is something that experts like Zumstein suggest. “I recommend people use sit-stand desks over standing desks, as the body does not like to do too much of any one thing,” he explains. “It’s best to alternate 30 minutes of sitting with 10 minutes of standing.”
“The primary difference between these two types of desks is ease of change,” says Sherry McAllister, D.C., executive vice president for the Foundation for Chiropractic Progress. She notes that the majority of sit-stand desks are easily converted to standing or sitting positions. The conversion can occur by manually cranking a lever or, on some of the more expensive models, pushing a button to command the changeover. “Most standing desks are suited for standing only, with some height changes that are, however, more tedious,” she says.
There are also standing-desk converters available, which are raised mobile platforms that you can place on top of your stationary desk to transform your workstation into a standing desk. This, according to Jamie Fertsch, co-founder and director of adjustable-height desk company NookDesk, is a great option for standing-desk newbies and those looking to invest less money into a standing desk.
“It’s a great way to try out the concept of a standing desk without fully committing to purchasing a more stationary one,” she explains, citing the company’s Evodesk XE as a great example of a standing-desk converter.
Benefits of a Standing Desk
Recent research suggests that using a standing desk or a sit-stand desk may come with a slew of health benefits, including the following:
A reduction in back pain. Kavita Sharma, M.D., a board-certified pain-management physician in Manhattan, reveals that studies show that lower-back pain can be mitigated by “simply standing, rather than sitting all day.” Thus a standing desk or sit-stand desk may be an excellent tool for office employees with chronic pain and discomfort. “Standing desks help to reduce compression in the lumbar spine because sitting has more compression than standing,” says physical therapist Dr. Karena Wu, owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in New York and Mumbai.
You’ll burn more calories. Extended sitting and long-term periods of inactivity have been linked to weight gain. Cornell Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Group (CHFERG) reports that spending more than one hour in a seated position can “induce biochemical changes in lipoprotein lipase activity (an enzyme involved in fat metabolism) and in glucose metabolism that leads to the deposit of fats in adipose tissue, rather than these being metabolized by muscle.” But getting up out of your chair can help to offset that. According to JustStand.org, standing burns 50 more calories per hour than sitting.
Increased life expectancy. Because sitting for extended periods of time has been linked to premature death, using a standing desk may help to increase life expectancy, says McAllister. Fertsch adds that “notable studies have found that reducing excessive sitting to less than three hours a day can increase life expectancy in the U.S. by two years.”
Increased energy. According to McAllister, a standing desk can “add variety to the working day, awareness to posture and stretching and less feelings of fatigue and stress.” A 2016 study revealed that standing increased energy expenditure and helped to combat “the harmful effects of sedentary behavior.” Wu agrees, noting that participants that stand rather than sit will have an increased heart rate, circulation and energy, “as standing requires more energy than sitting.”
Expert-Recommend Standing Desks
McAllister suggests first speaking with your doctor or a physical therapist about your needs before deciding to purchase a standing desk or sit-stand desk. There are a few reputable companies, however, that she would recommend. VIVO and FlexiSpot make height-adjustable standing desks; Ergobuyer offers adjustable sit-stand desks in a variety of sizes and heights; and Varidesk offers sit-stand desk converters, she explains.
And, of course, Fertsch will vouch for her company. “We decided to launch NookDesk because our customers were coming to us with feedback that they want more desk space. As a result, we created a desk with 80 percent more work space, which has really resonated in the world of ‘Marie Kondo-ing’ your life with productivity and organization hacks,” he reveals.
Does Insurance Cover a Standing Desk?
As the news of the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle continues to spread, more and more companies are starting to outfit their employees with standing-desk options. “Even Apple CEO Tim Cook recently proclaimed that standing desks are ‘much better for your lifestyle’ and gave every employee at the new Apple Park headquarters a standing desk,” says Fertsch.
Zumstein explains that a corporation’s human resources department may cover the cost of these desks, however, he notes that insurance companies might not. He recommends checking with your provider about its policies.
“As with all durable medical devices, it is up to the specific insurance company if it will be considered for coverage,” adds McAllister. She notes that in order for a provider to pay for the costs, a standing desk or sit-stand desk must be deemed “medically necessary.”
In order to qualify for reimbursement of the cost of a standing desk a patient should make an appointment with a health care provider to review his or her current condition. During the evaluation, McAllister recommends specifically asking if a standing desk would assist in healing/and or maintaining better health, given the condition. Your insurance company will most likely require a letter of medical necessity from your provider (i.e., chiropractor) in order to process your request for reimbursement.
“If the insurance company does not have allowances for such devices, then, if medically necessary, it may be an expense that could be added to a health savings account through their workplace,” she adds. Employees can also benefit by approaching their direct supervisors or human resource departments and asking if they might consider switching them over from a stationary to a standing desk.
Risks Associated With Standing Desks or Sit-Stand Desks
“While standing is better for you than sitting throughout the day, one can become fatigued without the proper shoes, posture and intermittent relief,” says Fertsch. In order to make your standing-desk experience more comfortable, the executive suggests placing a comfortable mat underneath your feet at your workstation.
“There was a small study showing that prolonged standing can cause leg pain, which makes perfect sense,” says Dr. Sharma. (Wu explains that this is because “standing too long creates too much general joint compression and also in the sacroiliac joint, where the sacrum connects to the ilium (pelvis), where forces from the upper body and lower body crisscross.”) For that reason, Dr. Sharma encourages her patients to work walking breaks into their day so as not to be stationary for too long. “But in general, the benefits of standing far outweigh the risks,” she explains.
Continuous use of standing desks have also been linked to sore feet and swollen ankles. This can especially be the case for women who stand in an office in high heels. “It’s time to consider cushioned flats,” says Wu. To prevent such conditions, she recommends taking breaks and alternating between seated and standing positions throughout the day. “With anything, there can always be ‘too much of a good thing,’” says Fertsch.