How Good Are Standing Desks For You Really?

Sunday Times 13th August 2023

 Is it time you stood up to work? Growing numbers of people certainly think so.

Standing desks don’t just help with bad backs. Research published in the British Medical Journal last year found that office staff at six councils in England reported improvements in stress levels and wellbeing after using them as part of a year-long trial. The participants, who were also encouraged to move around the office more, also felt more energetic, focused and productive, the University of Leicester researchers found.

Those who are sold on the idea include Sarah Vickerstaff, a semi-retired academic who had major back surgery ten years ago. The 66-year-old has osteoarthritis and says that if she’d used a standing desk earlier, she might not have needed the op. “The lower joints in my back were degenerating and crunching down on the nerves. Standing up was always the most comfortable position to be in,” says Vickerstaff, a member of the charity Arthritis Action. “If I had spent half my working life stood up at a desk, it might have reduced the speed of degeneration and, who knows, I might have avoided surgery.”

“It wakes you up to stand up,” says Jo Vallom-Smith, an occupational therapist. Indeed, study after study has linked a sedentary lifestyle to a higher risk of everything from heart disease to cancer. One study from Edinburgh University found that middle-aged office workers spend 7.8 hours sitting down on an average weekday — that’s about half an hour longer than pensioners. “The human body is not designed to sit down on a chair behind a desk,” says Chris Terry, a director at the occupational health service Insight Workplace Health. “We are meant to be walking around or lying down or at least squatting.”

“It’s the change of position that’s important,” agrees Terry, who adds that standing for five to ten minutes every half-hour is plenty. James suggests taking a more task-based approach — sitting to type and standing for phone calls. “Take every meeting in a different position, if you can. If you stand up for one, sit for the next and walk around at lunch.”

Other tips include not letting one leg take all the strain while standing. “Some people set alarms to remind themselves to change feet,” says Vallom-Smith from the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, who prefers using cues such as the arrival of a phone call or an email. Some standing desk enthusiasts are going a step further by standing on wobble boards — gym equipment that rocks from side to side. “It helps with concentration but wouldn’t be everybody’s cup of tea,” Terry says.

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