Any new activity takes practice, including something as simple as standing.
First we heard we shouldn’t sit all day. It’s as bad as smoking, shouted the headlines. Immediately, more standing desks sprouted up in offices all over Seattle. Then we heard that standing for too long could cause varicose veins, swollen ankles or worse. It was time to sit back down.
So which is best? Those who have successfully transitioned to a standing desk say they will never go back. Better posture, more energy and less back pain are just some of the benefits.
On the other hand, my own transition wasn’t smooth. Several months ago, I walked into my office after vacation and found rows and rows of shiny new standing desks that had arrived without much fanfare.
I jumped up to start working, but it wasn’t long before the pressure and pain in my feet and legs had me slipping out of my shoes and pacing on the hard floor. I would suddenly need a break and then crash back into my chair while keeping my desk at standing height. I didn’t want to give up and hit the “lower” button.
Besides wearing comfortable shoes, here are some other tips I could have used from the start:
Get an anti-fatigue mat. To prevent pooling of blood at the feet and improve circulation, an anti-fatigue mat is essential. The right mat has enough instability to require the feet to subtly move. This encourages small shifts in weight that help with balance and will keep blood flowing.
Make adjustments. “Neutral posture actually looks like the sleeping astronaut,” says Ron Wiener, chief executive officer of iMovr. At the SitLess showroom in Bellevue, Weiner demonstrated for me that the best sit-stand work stations have a downward tilting keyboard tray to alleviate pressure on the wrists. And people don’t realize how important an adjustable monitor arm can be, he says, because the eye level of the monitor completely shifts after the desk is brought to the standing position.
Try leaning. An office stool made specifically for leaning with a standing desk or desk treadmill can make shifting positions less cumbersome. Ergonomic stools made for this purpose are sturdy, tall and some have lumbar support to improve posture. The ability to lean instead of readjusting the entire workstation to sit back down can help you keep your focus while changing positions, says Wiener.
Work up to it. Starting slow is key. Before you expect to stand for long periods of time, work up to it. Leave the desk in standing position at night, so you can begin the day with it upright, says Wiener.
The new philosophy recommended by experts, including those at Cornell University, is to change positions often. Static standing can actually do more harm than good. So breaking up the day with short bouts of sitting, standing and then moving around is best.
Moving is what improves health. The simple act of standing at work has not been shown to make much difference in calories burned per hour, according to a Journal of Physical Activity and Health study published earlier this year — actually, only two extra calories every 15 minutes. But other studies suggest that standing (or more accurately, not sitting) helps us regulate blood sugar, thus reducing the risk of diabetes and other chronic conditions. Whether you sit or stand, breaking up the day with short walks is recommended.
Any new activity takes practice, including something as simple as standing. The anti-fatigue mat and changing positions often have made things better for me. I’m well on my way to becoming an office stander who will get as much use as possible out of that shiny new desk.