Standing Desks: Solving an Emerging Health Crisis in Today’s Workplaces

Sitting too much during the day can be devastating to our health. With an adjustable standing desk, you can spend less time sitting, burn calories and reduce the health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle. Learn how these desks can help improve your overall health.

Decades of shifts in the labor market have contributed to an overall decrease in activity among people in the United Kingdom. As increasing numbers of workers have come to occupy desk jobs, research has demonstrated a concerning rise in obesity and disease related to a sedentary lifestyle.

There are many different health concerns associated with prolonged sitting, and many can be prevented simply by standing up more often throughout the day. In fact, emerging research connects the use of standing desks to a variety of health benefits.

Sitting all day associated with health problems

As recently as 30 years ago, the labor market in the United Kingdom included far more physically active jobs in industries like manufacturing and agriculture. In the 1960s, about half of all working-age adults did work that required a significant amount of physical activity. Since the advent of the internet and the rise in automation, however, the number of active jobs has declined significantly.

Today, 80 percent of people have sedentary jobs that require little to no physical activity, and about 20 billion Britons are physically inactive—meaning they do not get any real exercise on a regular basis. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the prevalence of a less-active workforce has been correlated with an increase in health problems among people in the U.K.

Research has indicated that there’s a connection between sitting for long periods of time during the day and obesity-related health problems. One study found that adults who spent more than four hours sitting to watch TV or use the computer were far more likely to experience symptoms related to cardiovascular disease than adults who spent less than two hours sitting in front of a screen.

Many people try to offset their sedentary lifestyles by going to the gym regularly, but this actually does little to solve the problem. Even those who clock a few hours at the gym every week are still susceptible to similar levels of risk for cardiovascular disease if they spend large amounts of time sitting throughout the day. This suggests that small bursts of activity are not sufficient to counteract some of the negative effects of a predominantly sedentary lifestyle.

Cardiovascular disease is not the only concern that has been linked to prolonged sitting. Public health experts consider a sedentary lifestyle to be a major risk factor for obesity, which can lead to a variety of health issues. Today, about 27 percent of U.K. citizens are obese, and some experts attribute the rise in obesity over the last several decades in part to a decline in physical activity. When movement stops, a person does not burn as many calories and the body lowers the production of enzymes that break down body fat.

Research links obesity to a number of serious health concerns, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer. Individuals who are obese have a higher mortality risk overall than people who have a healthy body mass index. This risk is greater among people who have low-activity lifestyles. In fact, people who have active occupations and are obese are at a lower risk of mortality than those who are obese, but do not have an active occupation.

Low levels of physical activity are also associated with certain forms of cancer. Significant research has shown a link between high activity and a reduced risk of cancer, especially when it comes to the body’s level of  C-reactive protein. This protein is a marker for inflammation, and high levels of it can damage cells.

Another one of the negative impacts of sitting for prolonged periods of time is a decrease in core strength. Sitting in standard office chairs does not activate a person’s core muscles the way that standing does, causing people to lose much of the strength in their abdomen and lower back. The weakening of these muscles can lead to poor posture and chronic back pain. Prolonged sitting can also decrease bone mass, which may lead to a range of additional health problems—especially as one gets older.

The health benefits of standing

Even if you do not have an active job, you can still avoid the health complications associated with prolonged sitting. By spending even a small portion of your workday standing instead of sitting, you can improve your health and lower your risk of developing obesity-related illnesses.

Standing burns about 50 more calories per hour than sitting down—and that can really add up over the course of a day. In addition, standing up at work frees you to stretch or walk around, which can further increase your level of physical activity without you even realising it.

Beyond just burning more calories, increased standing can promote better health outcomes overall. One study found that a decrease in the amount of time spent sitting each day can increase one’s life expectancy by two years. Additional standing and overall activity also increases the amount of time that people can live without chronic diseases or illnesses that reduce overall quality of life. When accounting for quality of life, those who stand for significant portions of their day may gain seven healthy years over individuals who sit for prolonged periods.

The Mayo Clinic published a study that looked at the connection between time spent standing and improved health outcomes. The study found that, among healthy adults, men that stood a quarter of the time had a 32 percent lower risk of obesity, while women who stood for at least a quarter of the time had a 35 percent lower risk. The study also found that this risk went down even further when time spent standing was increased.

Research has even shown that standing can promote your health on a molecular level. The systems in the body that moderate triglycerides, blood sugar and cholesterol activate within just 90 seconds of standing up. The simple act of carrying your own body weight activates these muscular and cellular systems, and it can dramatically decrease your risk of obesity and diabetes by fueling your cells. Even when intaking more calories, research has shown that individuals who spend more time standing at work are less likely to gain weight.

By standing during the day, you also activate your core muscles, which can help you improve your posture and prevent back, neck and sciatic pain. For many people, reducing the total time spent sitting during the day can be an effective way to eliminate chronic back pain. Standing also increases blood flow to the legs and feet, which helps preserve muscle strength and reduce inflammation.

Standing up does not just improve circulation to your lower body—it also helps boost blood supply to the brain. In addition, increasing activity sends hormones to the brain that can elevate mood and enhance focus. By standing at work, you can enhance your productivity and overall mood.

If you want to reduce the amount of time you spend sitting, you can start by tracking exactly how much time you sit and stand over the course of an average day. Once you know how much time you actually spend sitting, you can focus on decreasing it little by little. Because your body is used to prolonged sitting, it may take some time to go from mostly sitting to mostly standing, but your body will eventually adjust to the change.

Your ultimate goal should be to reduce the time you spend sitting to just three hours during the day, and spend the rest of the time standing. At this level, you can start to benefit from a lower risk of obesity, type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, among other issues.

How a standing desk can help

Because so much of the average workday for many in the U.K. is spent at a desk, switching to a standing desk can make a big difference. For more than two-thirds of the participants in a study examining the effects of standing standing at work, the use of a standing desk increased productivity and overall health benefits after one year of use.

For the best results, it’s important that you create a workspace that is compatible with standing during the day. An adjustable desk is suitable for both standing and sitting, allowing you to gradually decrease the amount of time you spend sitting during the day. To improve comfort and prevent excessive pressure on your bones and joints, you should also use a gel or foam mat to stand on when you are at your desk. Standing will put more pressure on your feet and ankles, and so it’s also advisable to wear comfortable and supportive footwear.

Also keep in mind that it may take a little time to adjust to standing up for part of your day. To help make the process more comfortable, it can be helpful to incorporate some walking into your day. This promotes healthy circulation, and will also help get your leg muscles used to the increased movement and activity.

The challenge of simply standing for longer portions of your day may surprise you at first, but it will get easier over time. After just a few weeks of consistent standing, you can expect for it to become much easier and more comfortable.

To start getting used to less sitting, try standing at your desk for 15 minutes at a time. Then, as you become accustomed to it, increase your standing time. Before long, you may find that that majority of your time at work is spent standing.

To prevent strain and promote good posture, make sure that you position your monitor to be 15 to 30 inches away from your eyes. You should also be looking slightly up at your screen—this will keep you from hunching over during the day. You should position your keyboard so that your wrists remain flat and your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Taking a few minutes every hour to stretch can also help you remain comfortable and minimise the strain you experience while you’re at your desk working.

How Excek’s desks maximise the benefits of standing

We offer a range of standing desks designed specifically for those who would like to reap all the health benefits of standing more and sitting less throughout the day. Our desks are adjustable, allowing you to find the right height for you quickly. You can also easily switch between a sitting and standing position, which can be especially important as your body is getting accustomed to more standing.

To that end, you won’t have to spend a lot of time switching back and forth. You can adjust the desk quickly—usually in as little as 15 seconds.

Are you ready to move beyond a sedentary lifestyle and improve your health? We invite you to check out the full line of Excek’s standing desks today.

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