I’m often asked by people if they should replace their normal desk with a standing desk. My answer is this…it depends! There are many factors you need to take account of when looking at whether you need a standing desk. Some of them are below:
- How long are you spending sitting at your desk currently each day on average? I would suggest that even if you have a ‘desk job’ where you have to work for prolonged periods of time at a desk (e.g. 8+ hours a day), there are interventions you could include in your day to mean that having a sitting desk is still ok. These would include things such as – standing up every time you’re on a phone call when you don’t need to take notes, setting an alarm or similar to go off every hour, and then getting up and doing one of the simple stretches explained below, when you do take a break, e.g. to go and get a cup of tea/coffee or food, don’t automatically sit down with it, perhaps take some of your break standing up. During your lunchbreak, take time to go for a walk, even if you only have 5-10 minutes to spare.
- How active are you during the times when you’re not at your desk? If you’re very active, out walking dogs, doing other non-sitting activities, you are again probably fine with longer periods sitting at a normal desk. If however you tend to spend the time when you’re not at your desk in other sitting positions (e.g. on the sofa, driving etc) then a standing desk for some of the time you’re doing your desk based work could be helpful.
- Do you have a suitable set up at your sitting desk? This includes a suitable chair that can be adjusted as needed (see my post How Can I Check My Back Posture for more on this!) and computer at the right height to allow for correct posture.
- Do you take regular breaks away from your desk and when you do take a break are you doing any form of stretch that counteracts the sitting position?
When we are in a sitting position for long periods of time it can cause tightness in several key muscles that can create feelings of stiffness or pain in the lower back. Stretches that counteract sitting are particularly effective.
I would suggest (1) a lying hamstring stretch (2) lying with one knee in towards your chest whilst the other leg extends along the floor, (3) lying with knees bent and crossing one ankle over the opposite knee and pulling leg in towards you or having the foot rest against the wall and (4) spending time in Sphinx pose - a great antidote to sitting.
Spend time coming into this position slowly and only come up as far as feels comfortable for your lower back.
These are just some of the factors to consider… it may be that moving between a standing and a sitting desk (one hour at each) could be a really great compromise if you are stuck with long hours of sitting. Also finding regular times to have breaks, move around, do some simple stretches and bring greater awareness to the length of time you're sitting for, will be really useful.
Having just a standing desk may bring other challenges with the effort of standing all the time – people will often stand with weight more on one side than the other, they may not have the standing desk at the right height or may get back ache through prolonged standing.
Like most things in life, trying to find moderation between sitting and standing is likely the best approach for most.