Should You Get a Standing Desk for Your Office?

Even ten years ago, such an idea wouldn’t even be considered in most corporate offices. The whole idea behind cubicles, after all, is to instill a sense of equality. Everyone has the same gray working space, as though that’s somehow going to enhance productivity. Yet as smaller companies have gained more prominence, and people have flocked to positions that allow them to work from home, the entire concept of the office has changed.

The latest trend in office furniture: standing desks. At first glance the trend seems silly, if not ridiculous. Why would you stand when you can sit? After all, as Winston Churchill once put it, “Never stand up when you can sit down. And never sit down when you can lie down.” The standing desk lies in the face of this man’s secret to success — and quite successful he was.

standing desk
photo credit: juhansonin

Yet as we’ve learned in the last few years, sitting for hours on end can cause damage that even exercise can’t fix. That is to say, if you sit down for two, three hours at a time and exercise for an hour after work, you’ll still have done more harm than good. So with the myriad freedoms many companies have introduced in the past decade, many employees have an opportunity to get out of their seats and start getting healthy by standing.

The question remains: will you take advantage?

But it’s expensive

If you plan to go buy a standing desk, yes, it will probably get quite expensive. A snippet in the latest issue of Wired shows a $2,000 standing desk setup that includes an adjustable desk and stool. It is understandable, then, why many people would turn away from such a setup. Standing might have its benefits, but a $2,000 price tag, including $1,500 for the desk itself, seems outlandish.

Truth be told, that kind of price is outlandish. There is absolutely no reason to spend that much on a desk. In fact, if you work on a desktop computer, an adjustable desk makes no sense. What, are you going to raise and lower your desk, which contains a computer, possible a second monitor, and untold other heavy items, multiple times per day? No. A high-surfaced, stationary desk will do just fine. And you can get one of those far, far cheaper than $1,500.

A simple setup

You might typically see them in the inclined position, but you can adjust a drafting table to lay as flat as any other desk. Since these are adjustable on all four legs, you can not only set it flat, but set it to any height. So no matter whether you’re 6’5″ or 5’2″, you can adjust a drafting table to your perfect height. Best of all, even an expensive drafting table will cost you under $500. You can get a perfectly acceptable one for $200 — because remember, you won’t be drafting. You’ll be working as normal.

What about a seat? Again, you don’t need this to be adjustable. You just need it to be high enough that it reaches the top of your drafting table when sitting. A drafting chair might sound appropriate, but in my experience they are either too uncomfortable, or don’t adjust high enough. So what would work well? A bar stool with a backing works great. You can find plenty of them that are high enough for any drafting table, and many of them are padded. (Though the basic metal bar stool is plenty comfortable without padding.)

Your total cost for a drafting table plus bar stool? Under $500, and under $400 if you can bargain hunt. That seems much more reasonable for a desk that will benefit your health.

The rigors of sitting

Sitting might feel comfortable, but that doesn’t mean that it’s good for you. One huge detriment to sitting is that it leaves your psoas muscles, and many others, constantly contracted. This constant tension on the muscle leads to atrophy. Since the psoas run from the spine to the thigh bone, it’s easy to understand why sitting all day can cause back pain. You’re actively damaging quite important muscles.

There are also studies that link a sedentary lifestyle, which includes sitting all day at work, to cardiovascular disease. Humans simply weren’t meant to sit down all day. Our ancestors were up and moving about. While we have evolved since then, it’s pretty clear that we haven’t quite evolved to the point where sitting can be considered healthy.

A standing routine

Because standing desks do have chairs, it can be tempting to continue sitting down all day at them. Trust me, I know. For the first two years I had a standing desk I ended up sitting at it most of the time. The trick is to find opportunities to stand, and then stand for as long as you can.

Find an activity. My major attempt to stand longer started with my favorite activity: writing. I decided that when I started to write for the day, I’d kick the chair away and stand as long as I could. That gave me a few hours, split between morning and afternoon, when I was in a standing position.

Set a timer. Think of standing at your desk as a good habit, and sitting as a bad habit. As we all know from experience, bad habits are difficult to break and good ones are difficult to cultivate. We sometimes need external apparatus to help us make a transition. Setting a timer every twenty minutes is a good start. Sit for twenty, stand for twenty. Soon enough you’ll be standing longer and sitting less.

Bathroom break. A coworker used his system to create a standing routine. Every time he went to the bathroom he’d move his chair away from his standing desk. When he returned he worked while standing until he needed to sit again. At first that was about twenty minutes, but eventually he’d stand all the way until he needed the bathroom again.

The trick is to set up some kind of external indicator for when you should be sitting and standing. If you just let things play out as normal, you’ll end up siting all day as you always have.

Don’t skimp on exercise

Just because standing is good for your health doesn’t mean that you can skip exercise. You can, of course, just as you can skip anything that’s good for you. But it’s at your own peril. Just remember: exercise doesn’t have to be rigorous. It doesn’t have to occur at a gym. If you don’t enjoy exerting yourself, and you don’t enjoy the environment of a gym, don’t go. There are alternatives.

Taking a 20-minute walk is a great start. If you can do this every 90 minutes, all the better. If you can do it once a day, it’s a good start. Working in push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and other bodyweight exercises can also be a help. This article is filled with at-home exercise that have added benefits. And yes, cleaning your house does count as some form of exercise. So do it regularly.

Standing: yes

To answer the question in the headline, unless you have some debilitating ailment that prevents you from standing all day, you should absolutely get a standing desk and adapt to the lifestyle. People go to great lengths to live longer lives. If standing for roughly half your working day will extend your life, why wouldn’t you at least give it a shot?

As I can personally attest, standing has many benefits. There is a psychological barrier, of course. We’ve been sitting all our lives, so change can prove difficult. But the benefits are undeniable. If you have the opportunity, I guarantee you’ll feel all the better for it.