Standing Desk Confidential: Problems With Standing All Day

January 17, 2019

stand only desk
David Kirshbaum

Think using a standing desk means you have to stand all day? Think again.


Standing desks have become popular in recent years due to research about the negative health effects of sitting all day at work. But standing all day has its own drawbacks. Height-adjustable standing desks offer the ability to both sit and stand, so you can change position with ease throughout the day. Read on to find out why this is so important for your health.

Problems With Standing-Only Desks

If you're thinking about ditching your chair, consider the following problems with standing-only desks.

Standing-Only Desks Cause Discomfort and Fatigue

When you're used to sitting all day, your muscles have adapted to that position. If you suddenly switch to standing full-time, you force your body to work hard in unfamiliar ways. It's like not working out for months and then one day trying to leg press 150 pounds for eight straight hours. You can quickly end up worn out, stressed, and in a lot of pain.

Standing-Only Desks Are a Pain in the Feet

Let's talk about that pain. When sitting, your weight is supported by your pelvis. Standing for long periods forces your legs and feet to carry your weight, and it changes the tension patterns in your back. This puts a lot of pressure in these areas, causing muscle stiffness and cramping. This can not only be painful, but it can put you at increased risk of injury.

Don't Stand for Varicose Veins

All that pressure in your legs and feet can also cause varicose veins — twisted and enlarged blood vessels that can bulge the skin and cause additional pain or discomfort. For some people, the biggest problem with their varicose veins is how they look. But they can also be a sign of other cardiovascular problems.

Standing and Heart Health

Whether your blood vessels look healthy or not on the outside, standing still for long periods might be putting you at risk for heart disease. A large-scale Canadian study published in 2017 in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that "Occupations involving predominantly standing were associated with an approximately 2-fold risk of heart disease compared with occupations involving predominantly sitting."

Prolonged standing can cause blood to pool in your feet and ankles. This can put extra strain on your heart as it tries to pump your blood.

A combination of sitting, standing, and walking showed the most positive health results … but only for men. For women, this combination work style made things worse! The researchers were unable to determine the reason. They suggested it might have more to do with stress from the way women are treated at work than their physical work habits.

With this caveat, the prevailing wisdom is to add more movement into your workday.

How To Avoid Too Much Sitting OR Standing At Work

Using an anti-fatigue mat when standing will relieve some of the pressure on your feet and legs. You'll feel more comfortable and energized, and your leg muscles might not get so stiff. But you still need to move in order to help your heart.

Your body is designed with a secondary pump in your ankles and calves to help your heart get blood back up to your upper body. But it only works when you're moving — the physical action that happens in your legs and ankles when you walk or run creates the pumping effect on your blood.

So one of the keys to healthier work habits is moving more. Let's look at some ways you can make this happen.

Take Moving and Stretching Breaks

Using the Pomodoro Technique (working in focused bursts with short breaks in between) helps your mind, your body, and your productivity. To time your work periods, you can use a physical timer, type "25-minute timer" into an internet search, or use a productivity app. When the timer goes off, have a stretch and walk around for a minute. Then get back at it.

Move While You Think

Sometimes, when working on projects, we need time to think things through. Don't sit still while you're problem-solving. Moving can help stimulate fresh ideas. It increases circulation, so you're literally getting more blood to your brain!

Change Your Position Often

When standing, shift from one foot to another. Try using a foot prop and switch which foot is elevated.

When sitting, switch between good upright posture and various other positions. Cross your legs, lean to one side, twist and pivot, or shift your weight from one hip to the other. For added fun, do some chair exercises.

Use a Sit-Stand Desk

Height-adjustable desks and desk converters make it super easy to switch between sitting and standing throughout the day. Sit-stand desks come in crank versions for the budget-conscious and motorized models for those who value push-button convenience.

Build Movement Into Your Day

With a little creativity, you can force yourself to walk more throughout your day. Park at the back of parking lots. Take the stairs. Drink more water — it will not only give you the benefits of good hydration, but you'll need to walk to the bathroom a little more often.

Go see colleagues in their office instead of sending an email. You'll not only be moving more, but you'll also be fostering the human relationships that so often get ignored in the digital age.

Remember, we're built to move. Find ways to pull yourself away from the screen more often, and keep changing your position while working.

What ways have you found to bring movement into your workday? Tell us in the comments!

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