Standing workstations, or variable-height workstations, are desks that adjust to allow the user to stand up or sit down whilst working. Their use has been gaining momentum of late following studies supporting their benefits as well as some mainstream media coverage.
What does the evidence say?
It seems there is evidence that supports a few benefits of using a variable height workstation:
- Workers who regularly changed between sitting and standing during their day had shorter and fewer breaks, and were more productive than those who sat all day.
- Musculoskeletal pain (eg. back pain) reduced by an average of 62%.
- The occurance of reports of injury and illness reduced by more than 50%.
- More calories are burnt when standing as opposed to sitting. It is estimated an extra 650 calories per week are burnt if a person stands for half their work day, 5 days per week.
- There is also some evidence that metabolism and circulation are boosted by standing.
Is sitting down really that bad?
- We sit, on average, anywhere from 7.7 hours to 9.4 hours per day.
- Prolonged sitting is linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, some cancers (eg. colon and breast) and an increased risk of early death.
- Sitting for more than 6 hours daily increases mortality by 37% for
- females and 17% for men.(Patel.2013).
- The deliterious effects of extended sitting do not seem to be countered by doing exercise/gym workouts.
- Sitting is not associated with spinal pathology and pain unless prolonged for about half a workday (Lis AM, 2007)
- There is a higher prevalence of spinal pathology and pain in those occupations that require the worker to sit for the majority of a working day and is significantly higher than the prevalence rate of the general population (Papageorgiou 1975).
- Sedentary muscles release lower levels of the enzyme lipoprotein lipase, and the body becomes less responsive to insulin.
Standing workstations – what are the options?
There are a few types of adjustable desks available – some are electric-powered, some have handles to wind up/down, or you could simply opt for an old-fashioned milk crate! Some of the main brands are Varidesk, Yo-yo desk, SoHo desk, ONGO, Ergotron and Up/Down, but other companies, including Ikea, have recently been getting in on the act and have developed their own adjustable tables.
Are there any negatives?
- These desks are obviously built for function, not aesthetics, but their visual appeal will surely
- improve as the market becomes more competitive in the next few years.
- Standing for long periods may have many health benefits, but may not be suitable for people with certain conditions such as:
- spinal stenosis (usually experience increased pain when the spine is straight or in extension)
- Claudication/circulatory problems
- plantar fasciitis or other foot problems that might be exacerbated by weight-bearing
- knee arthritis or other knee/hip conditions that might be exacerbated by weight- bearing, although alternatives like suitable footwear, orthotics and cushioned floor mats can alleviate these.
- Standing has been linked to an increased risk (up to 9 fold) of carotid atherosclerosis due to the increased load on the circulatory system. Developing varicose veins is more likely.
There is enough evidence to say that sitting 8 hours/day is certainly not desirable. That said, neither is standing all day, as it is still a stationary posture.
The evidence that exists suggests a mixture of both sitting and standing throughout the day, with regular movement and change of position is likely to be the optimal scenario. Variable height desks assist in achieving this variation in working positions.
[i] Hedge, Alan. Effects of an Electric Height-Adjustable Worksurface on Self-Assessed Musculoskeletal Discomfort and Productivity in Computer Workers. Cornell University Human Factors and Ergonomic Research Laboratory. Ithaca, NY: 2004. Page 3. Web.
[ii] Hedge, Alan. Effects of an Electric Height-Adjustable Worksurface on Self-Assessed Musculoskeletal Discomfort and Productivity in Computer Workers. Cornell University Human Factors and Ergonomic Research Laboratory. Ithaca, NY: 2004. 4-7. Web.
[iii] Hedge, Alan. Effects of an Electric Height-Adjustable Worksurface on Self-Assessed Musculoskeletal Discomfort and Productivity in Computer Workers. Cornell University Human Factors and Ergonomic Research Laboratory. Ithaca, NY: 2004. 4-7. Web.