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If you have a coworker who uses a standing desk, then you know how annoying they can be.
“Oh, don’t you know that sitting kills you?”
“Actually, studies have shown that sitting at a desk all day reduces your lifespan by ten years”
“You’re an idiot for sitting at a desk.”
Okay, I may have made that last one up. But the point is: people who use standing desks love to talk about their standing desks.
Like most health crazes, standing desks aren’t as great as people think. In fact, standing desks have some fundamental problems which vastly reduce their overall effectiveness – while making you look pretty silly in the process.
Today, I’m going to debunk some of the myths around standing desks and explain why they’re a little bit good for your health, but not quite as good as people think.
6) Because you need a standing mat to avoid crippling discomfort
Talk to anyone who has used a standing desk for a full day. They’ll tell you that the first thing they did after buying their standing desk was to buy a standing mat – also called an ergonomic anti-fatigue mat.
A standing mat is the same thing cashiers use behind their tills at supermarkets. They’re virtually required for jobs where you stand all day. Otherwise, crippling pain and discomfort builds up throughout your legs and back.
This problem is particularly bad if you’re standing on a hard surface. If you’re standing on thick carpet, it’s not as noticeable.
The point is: don’t expect a standing desk to immediately solve your health problems. If you don’t have a good mat to stand on, you’re just swapping out your sitting problems for standing problems.
5) Varicose veins
Some of the advantages of standing desks include burning more calories, avoiding varicose veins, and promoting a healthier blood flow.
Unfortunately, according to a recent study from Cornell University, one of those claims isn’t true. Standing desks don’t actually reduce your likelihood of developing varicose veins. In fact, according to that study, “Prolonged standing at work also increases the risks of varicose veins and accounts for more than one fifth of all cases of working age.”
If you’re going to develop varicose veins, then it doesn’t matter whether you’re standing or sitting: you’re equally as likely to suffer from varicose veins.
4) Because they don’t improve your posture
That same study from Cornell showed that people don’t improve their posture when using a standing desk. You’re simply straining different parts of your body.
Many people will naturally lean in towards the screen when using a standing desk, which puts more strain on themselves than they would normally get from a sitting position. Whether you’re standing or sitting, your bad posture tendencies will always be there.
3) Increased likelihood of carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a serious problem which affects many mouse users as they age. It’s caused by strain on the wrist. In modern society, that’s most often caused by leaning the base of your palm against the desk while arching your fingers upward to use a mouse.
Standing desks actually increase strain on your wrist, which thereby increases your risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
This strain comes from the lean we mentioned above. That same lean places pressure on your wrist in all the wrong places, which leads to increased risk of carpal tunnel syndrome over long periods of time.
2) Reduced productivity and fine motor skills
Sitting stabilizes the body. It allows our muscles to focus on fine motor skills with our hands instead of worrying about balancing and standing up.
Studies – like the recent one from Cornell – have shown that people who work at standing desks have poorer fine motor skills than those who work at sitting desks. When we sit, we’re better at performing tasks like driving, drawing, or pointing our mouse to various spots on the screen.
If you’re a gamer, fine motor skills are essential for headshots, RTS games, and basically every other video game in existence.
1) Because you can enjoy all of the same benefits with none of the side effects simply by standing up for 1-2 minutes every half hour
This is the real kicker for me: the Cornell study revealed that those who stood up from a desk every 20 to 30 minutes and stretched or walked around for 1-2 minutes enjoyed superior health benefits compared to those who constantly used standing desks.
The Cornell study summed up its findings with this:
“Sit to do computer work. Sit using a height-adjustable, downward titling keyboard tray for the best work posture, then every 20 minutes stand for 2 minutes AND MOVE. The absolute time isn’t critical but about every 20-30 minutes take a posture break and move for a couple of minutes. Simply standing is insufficient. Movement is important to get blood circulation through the muscles. And movement is FREE!”
So what are the benefits of standing desks?
Ultimately, standing desks aren’t totally ineffective. Cornell researchers concluded that standing all day requires about 20% more calories than sitting all day. If you think a modest increase in calorie burning outweighs the negatives listed above, then run out and buy your standing desk today.
There you have it: if the smart folks at Cornell say that standing desks are ineffective, then I’m not going to trade in my good old sitting desk anytime soon.