My cousin, who works at Macquarie Bank, has recently been advocating the benefits of standing desks. Apparently he and all his colleagues have been fitted with state-of-the-art, mechanical desks that can lift up and down from sitting and standing heights at the worker’s will. My cousin is a huge fan of the new technology as he claims it helps him stay alert, keeps the blood flowing through his limbs and most of all, helps him avoid packing on the pounds by “sitting on his ar** all day” (his words not mine).

The way he structures his day is to stand at his desk at all times except an hour at lunch and then an hour after lunch, to let the food digest. Apparently this strict regime was initially quite challenging and it required some time for him to work up to it. However, after the aching muscles, sore knees and feet and urge to sit down subsided, he became aware of the many health and mental benefits of this day-to-day working practice.

I only recently started working in an office full time myself and have experienced the difficulty of maintaining fitness. As such, I became very intrigued as to the worth of standing desks and decided to scope out the scientific analysis for myself.

Evidence has shown that spending too much time sitting – at work, commuting, or for leisure – increases one’s risk of diabetes, some cancers, heart disease and early death. Sitting can slow your calorie-burning rate to a third of the rate compared to standing up.

Canadian researcher, Dr Peter Katzmarzyk discovered that people who sit almost all of the time have nearly a one-third higher risk of early death than those who stand almost all of the time. Another study concluded that standing involves 2.5 times higher average muscular activity of the thigh when standing compared to sitting, which is vital for improving blood sugar profiles and vascular health.

A study conducted in 2011 discovered that prolonged sitting could be responsible for as much as 49,000 cases of breast cancer and 43,000 cases of colon cancer annually in the US. It also found that excessive sitting could be connected to lung cancer, prostate cancer, endometrial cancer and ovarian cancer.

A 2008 study found that people who sat for extended periods had notably higher levels of fasting blood glucose. A 2013 study corroborated this by concluding that the amount of time spent sitting could be a more important risk factor in developing type 2 diabetes that the amount of time spent vigorously exercising.

However, research has also shown that standing for prolonged periods of time can cause swelling, heaviness or cramping of the legs. It can even lead to varicose veins of some types of disease of the arteries.

Thus, as seems to always be the case with most health advice, balance is crucial. For optimum benefits, workers should alternate between periods of standing and sitting. There is no one golden rule as not enough research has been done to provide conclusive evidence, so the key is to find out what works for you. Some academics advocate standing and sitting for 30 minutes at a time, others recommend doing each for half of the day, and some simply say that regular low-intensity physical activity is essential.

The solution is to ease into your work standing/sitting regime, just as my cousin did. If you don’t have the option of state-of-the-art mechanical desks, however, try using a higher bench or cabinet for a few hours of the day, buy a stand that can prop up your computer. Alternatively, you could focus more consciously on standing on public transport, in meetings, on the phone or at a bar. It is also important to take regular breaks and try and choose more active ways to hang out with friends or during travel.


 

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