A number of studies have linked a sedentary lifestyle with greater health complications, including higher mortality rates.

Share story

When Citrix Systems redesigned its Fort Lauderdale, Fla., offices last fall, managers had a mission in mind: Kick-start creativity by getting employees to talk more and sit less.

The new layout encourages workers to move around, incorporating open areas and fewer walls. In a common area, there’s a large meeting table that employees have nicknamed the “ideation” table. Employees stand there, chatting and sketching ideas onto its whiteboard surface, much like they would mill around a kitchen island at a party (minus the cocktails). Standing is the preferred posture, part of a workplace movement to reverse the health consequences of a sedentary lifestyle.

“We started off trying to design a workplace that would push creativity, but there’s no question: We found ways to make our offices a better place for health,” says Guy Desautels, vice president of facilities and real estate for Citrix, which produces mobile and workplace technologies.

A number of studies have linked a sedentary lifestyle with greater health complications, including higher mortality rates.

“It used to be that you had to get up to go to a co-worker’s desk, but now you can instant-message them, you can pick up the phone, you can send them an email. You don’t actually have to be active,” says Dr. Alpa Patel, the author of an American Cancer Society study on the effects of sitting (see sidebar). She added that taking short breaks from sitting time, even as little as two to five minutes, has significant health benefits. Patel now sits on an exercise ball.

“Sitting at a desk for long periods of time isn’t good for you,” says Dr. Robert Schwartz, chair of family medicine and community health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. While Schwartz says a standing desk wouldn’t work for everyone — some might suffer with hip or knee pain — he says standing does offer an element of physical strengthening to it.

“You’re using more muscles, and you’re unconsciously shifting your weight,” says Schwartz.

Patel’s study and other reports changed the way employees at Facebook conduct their workdays. Of the 3,000 employees at Facebook, there are now more than 350 standing desks available to them. The company says it receives five to 10 requests for standing desks a week.

In addition to the standing “ideation” table at Citrix Systems, the company has ordered standing desks to be spread around its Fort Lauderdale, Fla., headquarters. The company’s offices in Silicon Valley are furnished with about 10 standing desks.

The Ikea store in Sunrise, Fla., sells some standing desks, but managers say sales aren’t anywhere close to what they are in Europe, where customers have embraced adjustable hydraulic desks to improve posture and circulation. “They’ll work for a little while sitting down, then they’ll stand up for a while,” says Charles Wing, Ikea business manager.

Mason Reed, managing director at Coconut Grove, Fla.-based advertising agency CPB, switched to a standing desk last year. He felt he was spending too much time sitting in front of computers and that his posture wasn’t always the best. But after he learned he’d burn a few extra calories standing, he was sold on the habit.

“It just seemed like such a simple change, a small contribution to my health,” says Reed.

Sobering sitting study

A study conducted by the American Cancer Society looked at 123,216 individuals who had no risk of cancer, heart attack, stroke or lung disease and monitored their physical activity and time spent sitting over a 14-year period.

The findings suggested that women who sat more than six hours a day were 37 percent more likely to die prematurely than women who sat just three hours a day. For men, the mortality rate was 18 percent higher for those who sat more than six hours a day, compared with sitting just three hours a day.