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With the average adult sitting at a desk for nine hours per day, according to an American Journal of Public Health study, it’s no wonder members of the workforce have back issues.
“Eighty percent of the American population has complained of back pain in their lifetime,” says Vanessa Friedman, a Los Angeles-based kinesiologist with a specialty in exercise science. She’s also the founder of Ergonomic Connection, a company that sells ergonomic furniture and computer accessories.
Joanna Moynihan has a doctorate in physical therapy and owns Align PT and Health in Boston. She embraces the benefits of standing desks and explains, “Sitting increases the kilograms of intervertebral disc pressure (the load of pressure on your discs) by nearly 300% as compared to standing. Prolonged sitting has also been shown to lead to degenerative disc disease, low back pain, compression, and neuropathy.”
What are the benefits of using a standing desk?
Being sedentary has also proven to have dangerous effects on your heart. “It leads to high blood pressure and high cholesterol,” Friedman continues. “You are twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease as compared to a non-sedentary person.”
While daunting for those with desk jobs, the study did share some good news. You’ll see fewer adverse health effects if you sit for fewer than four hours per day. Translation: Stand up every so often during your work day.
The benefits of standing throughout the day are numerous. You’ll burn more calories, improve your circulation, strengthen abdominal muscles, and lengthen your hip flexors.
“Standing at your desk for just the recommended eight minutes every 20 minutes can help tremendously,” adds Friedman.
So what does this mean for you, now that you’re working out of your home?
Many health-conscious but thrifty professionals have tried their hands at reaping the benefits of standing desks by creating their own DIY scenario, e.g. laptops propped on top of TV trays on top of dining room tables. It’s a creative solution, but maybe not the best one.
“I have seen clients prop their computer equipment on yoga bolsters, boxes, reams of paper,” says Friedman. “The risk of tipping monitors and improper keyboard and monitor heights can cause more harm than good.”
If this is you, consider investing in a standing desk. While some cost more than $1,000, many really great models come in at under $500.
What you should look for in a standing desk
Whether you look for an entirely new desk, or just something to place on your existing set up, Moynihan offers a few suggestions.
First, look for a standing desk that’s adjustable, to allow for frequent positional changes, like sitting, high sitting (on a bar stool), and standing. Her favorite standing desk brands include Uplift and Fully, both of which (the Uplift Bamboo Stand Up Desk and the Fully Jarvis Bamboo Standing Desk earned a place on our our list of the best standing desks.
When using a laptop, choose a shelf that puts the screen at eye level and use a detached keyboard. “Your forearms should rest on the desk surface to improve posture and decrease ‘tech neck’,” she explains. This isn’t as much of an issue with larger desktop computers.
Make sure to stand close enough to the desk so that you don’t have to bend from your back. This can further increase intradiscal pressure.
Use a special standing desk mat, or follow Moynihan’s suggestion to elevate one of your feet 4 to 10 inches using a footstool or a book under the desk. This helps to naturally rotate your pelvis into a neutral position rather than locking your knees, which adds extension and compression to the lumbar spine.
To help add even more healthy movement to your standing desk, consider a balance board. Standing on one during your work day increases natural micro-movements that, in turn, help burn calories, keep you alert, and strengthen your body. Fluidstance is one of the more popular boards with its budget-friendly, 360-degree-tilt Plane Cloud made from 100% recycled materials.
Friedman likes the electric powered VersaDesk, which allows you to move your desk up and down, and Ergotron’s WorkFit-A model, which has a huge range of motion and attaches to the rear or side of most desks with a sturdy clamp.
So, are the benefits of a standing desk worth the investment?
Yes. If you currently spend a lot of your work day sitting, and you want to take preventative steps to keep your body healthy, then a standing desk is for you. And, if you feel good about standing but you're currently making do with a stack of books, then a standing desk can improve your workspace. Do consider what fits in your home office, and be realistic about how much use it will actually get.
If you need help choosing the best one for you, our roundup of the best standing desks has information on each of our top picks.
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