You have probably heard all about the potential health risks and pitfalls that come with extended periods of sitting and living a sedentary life. To reduce those risks and maintain better health, many office workers, students, and other deskbound people have turned to standing workstations. These come with their own benefits and advantages, but with the right use, you could kiss your sitting woes behind. Unfortunately, not many people know how to properly use a standing desk. How high should a standing desk be? How long should you stand at your standing desk? Read on to learn more.
The Benefits of Standing Desks
Are Standing Desks Good For You? Reports vary on the exact effects of sitting for too long, but a meta-study found an association between extensive sedentary time and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and general mortality. It may also contribute to increased obesity and metabolic syndrome, which refers to a cluster of conditions that include:
- High blood pressure
- Increased blood sugar levels
- Abnormal cholesterol levels
- Excess body fat around the midsection
Meta-analyses suggest that sitting for more than eight hours per day without any regular physical activity poses health risks on par with smoking.
That’s where the adjustable standing desk came in as a means of reducing sitting time and supporting your health.
A stand- up desk allows you to burn more calories. You are always burning calories to power everything from small movements to breathing. Sitting naturally requires much less fuel and physical activity than most any other activity. Your exact caloric burn can vary based on your personal health and metabolism, but studies have found that standing for 185 minutes burned 174 more calories than an equivalent time of sitting. Less generous studies have found that sitting burns an average of 80 calories per hour while standing burns 88 calories per hour.
Regardless, neither sitting nor standing will burn more calories than actual exercise, but standing at work can give you an extra edge in keeping your calories in check.
Blood Sugar Levels
Sudden spikes in your blood sugar aren’t good for your health, particularly if you have insulin resistance, prediabetes, or type 2 diabetes. Sudden dips in blood sugar can also cause your workday to drag and make you crave sweets, carbs, and junk food.
Studies found that 185 minutes of standing after lunch reduced spikes in blood sugar levels by 43 percent compared to the same amount of sitting. In another study, office workers who alternated between sitting and standing every 30 minutes reduced their blood sugar spikes by an average of 11.1 percent.
If you suffer from back pain, a stand-up desk may improve your ergonomic experience and promote good posture to reduce pain throughout the day. Participants of a study reported reduced lower back discomfort after five days of alternating sitting and standing every 30 minutes. Another study found that alternating between sitting and standing significantly reduced pain in the upper back and neck.
However, some studies actually say the opposite. A study on sit-stand workstations resulted in 50 percent of the patients developing lower back pain when asked to stand for two hours. None of these participants previously had lower back pain. This is just more reason to understand how to properly use and set up your adjustable standing desk.
Setting Up Your Standing Desk
How Long to Stand
While there are no set guidelines for a standing desk, most experts do agree that it’s best to alternate between standing and sitting. Standing for too long all at once can put too much pressure on your feet, legs, knees, hips, and back, ultimately resulting in pain and discomfort.
How long you should stay on your feet depends on your own comfort levels and physicality. While experts originally suggested standing for 15 minutes every hour, many now recommend alternating between sitting and standing every 30 minutes at least. At most, experts suggest standing for 45 minutes every hour.
How High Should a Standing Desk Be?
The right desk height is crucial to ensure your comfort and reducing any strain, particularly in your neck and shoulders. The general rule of thumb is that your desk should be at elbow height. This means that, with your palms flat on the desk, your elbows should be at a comfortable 90-degree angle.
Most guidelines suggest that the average 5’11” person should have a desk that is about 44 inches tall, though that height will vary based on your own proportions. This is much easier with an adjustable desk or standing desk converter. To figure out your own height:
- Stand up straight with your head straight up toward the ceiling, shoulders back but relaxed, and arms down at your sides.
- Bend your elbows to 90 degrees.
- Bring the desk up until you are touching your keyboard keys.
Keep in mind that your footwear will affect your desk height. If you wear high heels or thick-soled boots, you should adjust your desk height accordingly. Furthermore, remember that this is just a general guide to your height-adjustable desk. While it’s okay to set your desk height lower, avoid setting it higher than your 90-degree height, which will put a lot more pressure on your wrists, elbows, and shoulders.
Adjusting Your Monitor
Of course, the desk height doesn’t matter if you’re straining to look at your computer screen. The average computer user spends most of their time looking at the top of their monitor, so adjust your monitor such that the top of the screen is at eye level and slightly tilted back. The general consensus also suggests that the screen should be 20 to 28 inches away from your face. For reference, that means that your screen should be farther away than the distance from the tip of your middle finger to your elbow. The general thing to keep in mind is that you shouldn’t have to lean forward or tilt your neck up or down to see your screen.
Working on a laptop gets a little tricky as you will almost always have to tilt the screen back and tilt your neck down. At the very least, make sure you align the laptop’s keyboard with your elbow height and try to avoid long-term use.
Anti-fatigue mats provide extra cushion and support for when you stand, which can combat fatigue, reduce discomfort, and encourage some necessary movement. Studies suggest that workers who stood for two or more hours per day experienced less discomfort and tiredness when using anti-fatigue mats. They may also help to reduce any leg problems and lower back pain.
Take a Break
Whether you’re sitting or standing, it’s good advice to take regular breaks. Walk around, stretch your limbs, and let your eyes rest and focus on something other than a computer screen. There aren’t any set rules for how often you should take a break, but you should generally aim for short five-minute breaks every hour and longer breaks (up to a half-hour) every four hours. Of course, this all depends on your workload and the tasks you’re working on. Your body should tell you when you need to take a quick stretch, but if you get caught up in your work easily, set a reminder on your phone or computer to take an hourly break.
While standing desks aren’t a cure-all for workplace health, they can play an essential role in reducing your sedentary time. Along with standing desks, make sure you incorporate regular physical activity into your everyday life to support your better health.