Keven Moore: Weighing the pros and cons of using standing desks in the workplace

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For thousands of years, mankind spent most of their lives on their feet. But over the past hundred or so years, rapid technological advancements such as cars, machinery, robotics, TVs, computers, smartphones, etc. began chiseling away at physical activity. With technology now doing more of the heavy lifting, people are more sedentary than ever before.

Think about it, back in the day our forefathers had to hunt, grow crops or tend to livestock to put food on the table. Today, dinner, and even beer, can be delivered to your front door using an app on your smartphone while you watch the game.

An adjustable standing desk (Photo by Keven Moore)

According to a US News report, 86 percent of American workers sit all day for their jobs. When you also factor the time we sit while commuting to and from work, watching TV, reading, surfing the net, eating dinner and other aspects of our lives, many of us will spend approximately 13 hours a day sitting down.

Sitting too much can kill you. It sounds a bit harsh, but it’s a fact. An emerging base of research points to the detrimental effects of something that many of us do without much thought.

It’s a fact that people who work in a sedentary position are prone to Sitting Disease. The term “sitting disease” has been coined by the scientific community and is commonly used when referring to metabolic syndrome and the ill-effects of an overly sedentary lifestyle. However, the medical community does not currently recognize “sitting disease” as a diagnosable disease at this time.

Sitting has also been linked to chronic back pain and herniated lumbar disks, sore shoulders and neck and atrophy to our muscles. Muscles burn less fat and blood flows more slowly during long periods of sitting, allowing fatty acids to more easily clog the heart. Prolonged sitting has been linked to high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, and people with more sedentary lifestyles are twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease.

Although our awareness of the harmful impacts of inactivity is increasing, change has been surprisingly slow and difficult to occur in the workplace. The unfortunate reality is that many everyday activities and social norms are defined by the use of chairs.

Just recently a client asked me about the pros and cons of standing desks in the workplace. After searching through my usual safety and risk management resources, I was unable to locate any quick source to provide them so I decided to dig a little deeper.

Janey Rogers at her standing desk (Photo by Keven Moore)

I decided to ask Janey Rogers, an associate in our Lexington office, who had purchased her own adjustable standing desk several months ago after experiencing hip pain as a result of sitting for prolonged hours at a time, about her experience.

Rogers says she was more mentally drained at the end of the day before purchasing her standing desk. 

“Now I’m also more physically tired,” Rogers said. “In a weird sort of way, I feel more balanced. I just feel better in general. Before, I just pushed through the aches caused by sitting all day. Now it’s physically easier to get through the day. My hips do not ache like they used to. I’ve lost a couple of pounds. I’m sleeping better and I think it’s helping with stress level.”   

Standing desks are a positive and healthy way to work. Styles vary from stationary surfaces that look like raised tables, to floating standing desks that transition from sitting to standing with a few quick adjustments. There are manufactured versions of standing desks, and those that workers have devised on their own. In all cases, the end goal is the same: reduce the amount of time spent sitting during the workday.

No matter how active or inactive a person may be, a standing desk is ideal for any lifestyle or job that requires a person to remain seated the majority of the day.  

Standing Desk Pros

• Back pain is reduced in people who have switched to a standing desk. Many back problems originate from extensive amounts of time sitting and slouching in chairs and at desks and by using a standing desk or an adjustable desk helps to reduce back pains.

• Increased productivity and attention span. Many standing desk users claim that they feel more focused on their work, allowing them to be more focused and more productive.

• Standing regularly is shown to improve your metabolism which helps burn calories and promotes weight loss. Standing can help reduce occurance of cancer, obesity, heart disease and diabetes, effectively increasing life expectancy.

• Reduces obesity risk and helps workers feel more active. Research has shown that standing burns 50 more calories per hour than sitting.

• Helps improve posture and reduces eye strain

Standing Desk Cons

• Sore feet are one side effect of standing desks. It takes the body and feet two to three weeks to adjust to standing for hours. One way to combat this is to wear shoes with insoles or to also use an anti-fatigue matt to help relieve pressure on the foot from standing for prolonged periods of time.

• Standing desks do not always work well with laptops. The space between screen and keyboard can be significantly smaller than the distance between eye and elbow.

• There are reports of an increased chance of developing varicose veins. The risk can be reduced by not standing for too long and by not standing perfectly still. The risk, however, is low.

As you are deciding whether or not to use a standing desk, it’s important to remember that there are many options and styles. You will need to work your way into a standing for long periods and adjustable desks can allow you to alternate from sitting to standing throughout the day to keep strain off of your feet and legs.

Be Safe My Friends

Keven-Moore_1022

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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