October 4, 2020

Are Standing Desks Better for You?

The more you sit, the more you risk serious health issues

man working at a standing desk

If you have an office job where you sit hunched over a desk, clicking away at a computer most of the day, you need to take steps – literally – to reduce your sedentary habits. Our bodies are built to move, so sitting for hours at a time is bad news for your health (hello dead butt syndrome!).

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“Some research suggests that people who sit excessively have increased risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease,” says occupational therapist Michael Milicia. “Even if you’re actively working, usually your lower body is relatively static, and there is decreased circulation. Also, less movement throughout your day means more aches and pains.”

Studies show that standing and moving more throughout the day will positively impact your health. Exercise and activity level (or movement in general) is one of the most dramatically modifiable risk factors that individuals can change.

How to get more movement into your day

While you probably can’t completely get away from sitting at your desk (or at least sitting for some parts of your workday), there are things you can do to be an “active sitter.”

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Here are a few recommendations:

  • Take breaks often. Take micro breaks to stand, stretch and walk around to get your blood pumping and circulating. Set your computer alarm to remind yourself to stop working and stretch. Or do some standing yoga poses. If your work space allows, get your blood flowing with squats, lunges, wall push-ups or planks.
  • Try a standing desk. If you can, invest in a standing desk or find tasks where you can stand, such as talking on the telephone or reading hard copy reports. Put your file cabinet on the other side of the room so that you have to walk over to it. If you do have a standing desk, alternate between sitting and standing every hour. Movement is your best defense for a desk job!
  • Walking meetings. Find reasons to go for a walk or to do walking meetings. Instead of sending an email, walk to your colleague’s office down the hall.
  • Exercise and commutes. Incorporating some time in your day to workout at home or go to the gym before or after your workday will help offset the sitting you may do throughout the day. Instead of taking the car to work, turn your commute into a workout by biking to work. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or invest in a treadmill walking desk.
  • Incorporate seated exercises. Do exercises while seated at your desk, such as interlocking your fingers, turning your palms out and extending your arms. You can also rotate your shoulders, neck and ankles.
  • Step away from your desk at lunchtime. Leave your cube or home office. Climb some stairs. Take a 10-minute walk around the block. Trust us, your physical and mental health will thank you.
  • Mindful monitoring. A pedometer, heart rate monitor or fitness tracker can help you be more aware of your activity level and encourage more exercise, such as walking, throughout the day. Aim to get at least 10,000 steps a day.
  • Use a therapy ball chair. Rather than an office chair, try sitting in a therapy ball chair instead. The ball forces you to use your postural muscles to stay upright and balanced and you can shift your weight easily. As a bonus, you tend to stay more alert while sitting on a therapy ball.

Remember good eye hygiene is important

Prolonged staring at a computer screen does more damage than good, aka it can cause computer vision syndrome. Things like changing your viewing angle, practicing the 20-20-20 rule and remembering to blink often, can help.

Keep your seated posture ergonomically correct

Office workers typically conform to whatever configuration their desks and work stations are set at when they get them, but things don’t have to stay that way. It’s easy to set up an ergonomic office so that your work station doesn’t cause you pain or a loss in productivity.

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Here is Milicia’s advice on switching up your work area:

  • Adjust your computer monitor, keyboard and mouse so that they’re correct for your height. Your monitor screen should be approximately an arm’s length away. The top of the monitor should be at your forehead level when your head is facing forward. Be careful so that you aren’t looking up or down, but straight ahead.
  • The height of your keyboard and mouse should keep your elbows at your side and bent at 90 degrees. Make sure you’re not reaching or straining to reach your mouse or keyboard. It’s also worth mentioning the investment of an ergonomics mouse, which keeps your wrist in a neutral position, almost as if you’re shaking someone’s hand.
  • Your hips and knees should be at 90 degree angles. When you’re sitting, your feet should rest on the ground or be supported on a foot rest. Your back should be fully supported in an upright, straight-on position against the back of the chair.
  • Make sure you keep your head directly over your shoulders. Rather than leaning forward toward the computer like so many of us do, be sure to sit straight with a neutral spine. Leaning forward puts significant strain and pressure on your neck and upper back.

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