Are Standing Desks Really Better for You?

Woman at standing desk

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As someone who has spent my entire career attached to a computer screen, I have to admit, I have never considered how prolonged sitting might be affecting me. According to the American Heart Association, sedentary jobs have increased 83% since the 1950s, and apparently, it's not great for overall health. Sitting all day could increase your risk for dementia, affect your heart health, and even shorten your lifespan!

I was excited when FlexiSpot sent me their Kana bamboo standing desk to try out, but I decided to seek the advice of physical therapist Dr. Megan O'Linn of Moti in Los Angeles to see if standing is actually better for you. 

One of the most common side effects of prolonged sitting is back pain as it can put stress on your back muscles, neck and spine. The bad news? Even if you are ergonomically conscious, your back still won’t be happy with long seated sessions. She suggests work cycles and planning intentional breaks into your day. Plus, Dr. O'Linn says that she always discusses a standing desk option with her patients who sit all day that experience back pain.

What is a work cycle

Depending on your daily discomfort, Dr. O'Linn suggests cycles which have you seated (or standing) anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. After that time, she wants you to take a 3-5 minute stretch break, then come back and work another 30 minutes to an hour. After 3-4 work cycles, she suggests a longer 30 minute to 1-hour lunch break where she suggests walking outside, or lying down with your legs up, and then repeat the cycle for the rest of your work day.

For people like me that are seated all day, she stresses that the key is movement throughout your day, plus keep a healthy exercise routine on top of your breaks. The goal should be 30 minutes of exercise every day.  

Standing vs. sitting 

Dr. O'Linn shares that if you spend 80% or your day sitting, this could lead to other health issues -- it could put you at risk for back injuries and make you more susceptible to low back strain, disc injury and health factors.

But as someone who suffers from back pain and sits all day for work, I can't help but wonder, is standing really any better for you? 

While sitting can be hard on your spine, she warns that you will fatigue standing, and you will see postural compensations as well. "Even with bad posture, you are not compressing your spine in the same way," shares Dr. O'Linn of standing. 

She shares that she definitely has patients that have felt significant relief in their lower back throughout the day after they started using a standing desk, but she recommends working in the same cycles whether you are seated or standing at your computer. She shares just because you have a standing desk doesn't mean you should now work for 4 hours straight with no breaks.

What's the best way to approach a new standing desk? 

I noticed that just like starting a new exercise program, my body went through an adjustment phase. Read: I was tired! Dr. O'Linn recommends starting with just 20-30 minutes of standing, and then going back to sitting. She suggests to start that way for the first week, and if it's attainable, add 10 minutes per day to work your way up to standing for an hour. 

She shares to let your body guide you -- and don't wait until you are in pain to sit, adding, "If you're starting to see yourself shifting from one leg or the another, or if you're at your desk and you're starting to slump to one side, those are your signs that fatigue is setting in a little bit and you need to transition -- or a break." 

So what should my goal for standing be? "If you can be standing for 4 of your 8 hours intermittently, that would be fantastic," says Dr. Linn, adding that standing would help someone experiencing lower back pain like myself tremendously. 

The Switch to Standing

After getting my FlexiSpot standing desk to try at-home, I followed Dr. O'Linn's advice of listening to my body, and adding 10 minutes a day. After 3 weeks, I am able to stand for 3 hours a day and I've started setting my alarm to remind myself to take breaks every hour. The truth? It's really hard to stand for long stretches, and I am really tired after a standing session. Admittedly, it's hard to make myself stand when sitting is an option, but when I do stand for a good portion of the day I notice that my back does feel better.

This desk is a great size (48" by 24"), especially if you're adding it to a small space. The height is adjustable from 28.3" to 47.6" and you can save four different preset heights. Having the desk encourages me to stand, which makes me feel more energized, but it's only one click to adjust back down to chair level for when I need a break. Overall, I'm really happy with the standing desk and would recommend it to anyone. Here are a few of FlexiSpots popular models. 

Seiffen Laminated Standing Desk

Seiffen Laminated Standing Desk

FlexiSpot's bestselling model is effective and budget-friendly. 
$310 $220
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Adjustable Standing Desk Pro Series

Adjustable Standing Desk Pro Series

The FlexiSpot adjustable standing desk pro series has an advanced lifting system and ensures the maximum stability even at the highest setting.
$450 $380
Buy Now

Comhar All-in-One Standing Desk

Comhar All-in-One Standing Desk

The Comhar all-in-one standing desk offers a versatile and practical workstation that can help boost productivity and it's packed with features like convenient USB charging that sets it apart.
$500 $430
Buy Now

Kana Bamboo Standing Desk

Kana Bamboo Standing Desk

With rectangle or curved desktop options, and the elegant bamboo top, this option provides stability and great design. 

Dr. O'Linn warns there are other things to consider than just your desk including how your feet are positioned, your arms and wrists as you reach for your keyboard, as well as the level of your eyesight. She suggests that anyone who has pain throughout their workday should go see a physical therapist, adding that there are ergonomic specialists that will come to your workspace to help you set up the right environment for your computer to help you deal with or avoid pain while working. 

Read: The Essentials Needed to Help with Lower Back Pain 

Watch: The Toll Sitting All Day Can Take on Your Health