Why You Might Want a Standing Desk

March 25th 2015

It's no secret that sitting for extended periods of time isn't good for the body, but the consequences of long-term sedentary behavior are more troubling than you might have thought. Research from the American College of Cardiology in San Diego reveals that desk jobs can increase your risk of a heart attack and stroke.

Many try to make up for sitting all day with a run during lunch or after work, but while exercise helps, it cannot undo the irreparable damage of ample sitting time. In 2013, Nilofer Merchant described sitting all day as "the smoking of our generation" because it elevates risk for type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, colon cancer, and heart disease.

So how much sitting is too much sitting?

According to MindBodyGreen, we sit an average of 9.3 hours per day. That may not be surprising since many Americans put in nearly 50 hours of work each week, averaging 9.4 hours per day, according to a Gallup poll released last year. We wind up sitting (and working) more than we sleep, and MindBodyGreen warns that this is incredibly unhealthy. Sitting more than six hours a day makes you up to 40 percent more likely to die within the next 15 years than someone who spends less than three hours per day sitting (also, who are these people? I want to know their secret!). People with sitting jobs face double the risk of cardiovascular disease than those who stand up a great deal at work.

What it comes down to is that humans weren't designed to sit in front of screens all day, and our bodies are making us pay for it. 

What's so bad about sitting?


@sage_solar / Flickr

Many of us enjoy relaxing in front of the TV, but too much of this can be detrimental to one's health. Those who watch more than three hours of television daily increase their odds of developing heart disease by 64 percent. Between 1980 and 2000, sitting time went up by eight percent, likely due to technological advances, among other factors. And that was before iPhones and iPads entered the picture.

The U.S. also has a huge obesity problem. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that more than a third of American adults suffer from the disease. You expend pretty much no energy from sitting, so if you're among the 78.6 million U.S. residents struggling with obesity, sitting won't help you get to a healthier weight.

So what should I do about this desk job of mine?

Many of us live in a reality of computers, desks, cubicles, and being on-call for work, and changing professions to become a yoga instructor isn't a viable option. Dr. Jacquelyn Kulinski, a cardiologist, has done extensive research on the matter with her colleagues at the Medical College of Wisconsin. She urges office workers to move around every hour while working.

"Reducing the amount of time you sit by even an hour or two a day could have a significant and positive impact on your future cardiovascular health," Kulinski said in a release accompanying the report. "The lesson here is that it’s really important to try to move as much as possible in your daily life, for example, take a walk during lunch, pace while talking on the phone, take the stairs instead of the elevator and use a pedometer to track your daily steps. And if you do have a very sedentary job, don’t go home at night and sit in front of the TV for hours on end."

We know it's tempting, especially with Netflix and the Golden Age of TV to keep us distracted, but it's possible to do light exercise while catching up on shows as well. I used to stretch, do pushups, do jumping jacks, and do sit-ups in front of my television. It may not be socially acceptable when you're with others, but hey, you could inspire your buddies to be more active as well.

When you're not working, you can do little things to add more movement into your day like taking the stairs and walking over driving. "Just a brisk walk" would be helpful, says Dr. Dermont Phelan of the Cleveland Clinic, "and we don't have to do it continuously. Even doing 10 minutes three times a day will work."

Here at ATTN: headquarters in Los Angeles, we have a standing desk for anyone who gets sick of being in a chair all day. 

Some people go even further by adopting treadmill desks. "[A treadmill desk] dampens down inflammation. It dampens down the risk of depositing plaque in the coronary arteries," Dr. Phelan told CBS New York.

Merchant of Harvard Business Review said her quality of life improved when she abandoned the coffee meeting and began hosting walking meetings. 

"I liked it so much it became a regular addition to my calendar; I now average four such meetings, and 20 to 30 miles each week. Today it’s life-changing, but it happened almost by accident."

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Do you sit more than nine hours per day?

No 27%Yes 73%