Science Says You Don't Need a Standing Desk, After All -- You Only Need This

You may want to sit down before I tell you this. Really.

Remember when everyone was calling sitting "the new smoking," warning that too much sitting will kill you even if you exercise, and filling offices with standing desks (including $700,000 worth at the White House)? (See also: 11 Attractive Standing Desks You Can Actually Afford)

Never mind.

After studying thousands of men and women's sitting time at work, in front of the tube, and everywhere else, and following up with them for 16 years, a team of researchers concluded that there is no relationship between how much you sit and "all-cause mortality risk," aka, dying. In the International Journal of Epidemiology, the researchers urge policymakers to stop focusing on how much time we spend sitting.

The scientists acknowledge that they're not totally sure why sitting didn't seem to be killing their research subjects, when other studies have called out sedentary behavior as a death risk regardless of physical activity. They posited that since they studied office workers in London, who walk more than average to get from the Tube to work, the subjects may have been protected by their higher-than-average daily exercise.

Standing All Day Hurts

At the same time, many workers who have gone in for the standing desk craze are having second thoughts. Mikael Cho quit using his because the fatigue and pain caused by standing all day were interrupting his work flow. Ryan Waggoner quit because his heels hurt. And nurses, baristas, and retail clerks everywhere said, "Duh." They already knew that being on your feet all day hurts.

"Standing all day is unhealthy," asserts Cornell University's Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Group, which recommends eschewing standing desks for sitting desks (aka, desks), and taking frequent breaks.

But You Still Need to Get Up

One thing that everyone agrees is not killing us is moderate exercise. The good news is, you don't need fancy furniture to get that. Whether you work sitting, standing, or sprawled on the couch (telecommuters, I'm looking at you), try these tips to achieve the 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week that scientists say is ideal for not dying. That's just 22 minutes a day!

1. Walk Over to Coworkers' Desks Instead of Messaging Them

Since Cornell and others recommend getting up from your desk every 20 minutes, and since face-to-face communications are less likely to be misunderstood, everyday collaboration is a good way to add a few minutes of exercise each hour.

2. Bike to Work

I don't live in an urban center, but I still use a bicycle instead of a car to get around. Not only does this help me burn calories, but the pretty things I see on my bike rides elevate my mood.

3. Have Aaron Sorkin-Type Meetings

Remember on The West Wing, how every conversation took place while zooming down White House halls? Genius.

4. Have Lunchtime Walking Dates

When I worked in downtown San Francisco, colleagues and I used to power walk to the top of Nob Hill several days a week. It was a workout! If you're not that ambitious, even walking to the corner deli can help you get to 20 minutes.

5. Take Housework Breaks

This one is for those who work from home like I do. After hitting a milestone on a task, I "reward" myself by getting up and throwing in a load of laundry or unloading the dishwasher. Listening to a few minutes of a fun podcast makes the task feel like an actual reward.

6. Start Smoking

Just kidding. Don't start smoking. Seriously, don't. But you might notice that the smokers in your office take more breaks than you do. When you see a coworker go for a smoke break, you go outside, too. They don't deserve more breaks than you do just because of their habit.

7. Try a Fitness Tracker

I must admit that wearing a Fitbit hasn't helped me lose a single pound, which was my goal when I bought one. But tracking my steps and comparing my activity with friends has encouraged me to move around more throughout the day.

So, will you be keeping your standing desk? And what are you doing to get 20 minutes of moderate exercise a day?

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Guest's picture
Television Editor

Yeah, this is why I have a standing desk WITH a treadmill. :-)

Guest's picture

Just because something isn't killing you in a 16 year period, doesn't mean it isn't damaging you in ways you might not associate with that activity. ANY position is going to be damaging if held for too long. The answer is quite simply, to change working positions throughout the day. See Don't Just Sit There by Katy Bowman and Mark Sisson for an indepth look at this topic.

Guest's picture

I just got an adjustable height desk so I can stand , sit or just adjust the height. A terrific improvement over a fixed height desk IMO.