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Most Americans spend more than half of their waking hours in sedentary activities. At work, we sit in our office all day. At school, our kids spend much of the day at their desks. At home, we often plop onto the couch to unwind after a long day. And research shows that the amount of time we spend sedentary is correlated with our risk for many diseases and mortality from all causes. In fact, the US population could increase their life expectancy by two years if adults spent less than three hours a day sitting.  So why don’t we get up on our feet more? While taking breaks at work, going on a walk at lunch, and getting regular physical activity in the evenings and afternoons is a good start, it may not be enough. It turns out that an hour run after work will not make up for eight straight hours of sitting all day; even physically active people can be impacted by the health risks of prolonged sitting. So how can we stand up more throughout the day? One way to do so is to introduce standing desks into the workplace and classroom. Working at a standing desk benefits adults and children alike by increasing physical activity during the day.
What is a Standing Desk?
A standing desk is a desk designed to allow you to work while standing. In offices, this can be as simple as a raised surface that can be adjusted to specific heights for proper ergonomics. In school settings, desks that can be used while either sitting or standing have become more popular. These “stand-biased” desks usually have stools and are taller than regular desks, encouraging students to stand while they work and participate in lessons.
Standing Desk Benefits in the Workplace
Standing desk benefits may be particularly important for office workers. Researchers found that participants who completed 10 hours of standing work per week showed significantly increased daily physical activity levels as well as time spend doing moderate physical activity and moderate to vigorous physical activity compared to when they maintained their normal sitting work habits. Standing desks might also help you to lose weight; after the six weeks of standing work, participants showed a significant decrease in waist circumference. With the exception of fine motor actions, such as precise mouse pointing and clicking on the computer, research suggests that most standard office tasks are not largely affected by the use of standing desks.
Standing Desk Benefits in the Classroom
Stand-biased desks are becoming increasingly popular in classroom settings. Children who reduce their sitting time by using standing workstations show significant increases in energy expenditure and increases in daily step count.[4,5] In one study, kids who used stand-biased desks burned 17% more calories than those who remained in standard desks. In most cases, children who weigh more (including overweight and obese children) see even greater benefit from using the standing desks.[4,6]
Stand-biased desks don’t seem to interfere with academic engagement in the classroom,and in most cases they may actually enhance it. In one study, for example, teachers reported greater ease of maintaining students’ attention and higher levels of behavioral engagement in lessons when students stood compared to when they sat. Parents also noticed an improvement; 61% of parents of the children who stood reported improvements in their child’s behavior at school. Read more about the benefits of physical activity in children here.
How to Work Standing Up
As someone who works from home, I have a lot of flexibility about where I choose to work. I like to switch between working at the dining room table, on the couch, in a lawn chair outside, and other comfortable places in the house. But the place I am going to make a more regular part of the rotation? My kitchen counter. The raised kitchen counter is a perfect height for me to be able to stand up while working on my computer, making it a great substitute for a real standing desk.
It isn’t necessary to go out and buy a special standing desk (though you certainly can!).
- Look around your house or office for a shelf, dresser, or counter around that is the right height.
- Try clearing a space in a bookshelf. Many bookshelves have moveable shelves so you can adjust the height.
- If you can’t find the right height, combine furniture or use books to raise the height of your surface.
- Install or build a small shelf.
You may not be ready to stand all day long at first, but try to gradually increase the time you stand while you work to take advantage of the many standing desk benefits.
For other resources on staying healthy while working, read more in these blogs: Is Working Overtime Worth it? The Health Risks of Working Too Much and How to Prevent Eye Strain From Computer Use: 6 Easy Tips.
Share Your Experience
Have you ever used a standing desk? Did you make your own? Did it work for you? Share your thoughts on standing desk benefits in the comments section below.
This article was originally published in 2015. It is regularly updated.