Standing desks get talked about a lot for the health benefits and no wonder: the benefits are huge.
The health benefits of standing are well documented. Sitting too much is shaving years off our life expectancy. For decades standing has been linked to better life expectancy than sitting.
Back pain costs the economy millions in lost productivity and is one of the biggest occupational health issues. Using a standing desk has been found to reduce lower back pain by 67%. Working sat at a desk comes with a long list of similar musculo-skeletal complaints including backache but also headaches, stiff necks, shoulder pain and Repetitive Strain Injury.
A study in 1953 showed that bus conductors who were on their feet all day had half the rates of heart disease related deaths as the bus drivers who sat through their working day.
More recent research found that prolonged sedentary time was related to a 147% increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
"Humans weren’t designed to sit for hours upon end"
The modern scourge of Type 2 Diabetes can be reduced with more movement, and vascular dementia risks are reduced too. Diabetes and dementia are on massively upward trends and while modern working patterns aren’t totally to blame a change in how we work can certainly improve our chances and our wellbeing.
Respected Oxford academic Sir Muir Gray writes about the problems with our sitting-heavy culture and how that leads to poor health, ageing badly and other preventable lifestyle diseases. He is responsible for the often-repeated quote about sitting being the new smoking.
Standing for just three hours a day burns 30,000 extra calories in a year. That’s the equivalent of running ten marathons.
Even if you were intending to run ten marathons this year anyway, sitting at a desk all day can cancel out some of the hard work and gains from the gym and exercise. You might work out for an hour a day, but you are sitting a whole lot more. It’s estimated that office workers sit for 65-75% of the working day. Some of us will sit a lot more than that, then follow it up with more sitting travelling home, sitting to eat, sitting to watch TV or relax and then heading to bed.
We are an image-obsessed civilisation, but also an increasingly unhealthy one. Fad diets are popular but long-term institutional changes in the fundamental ways we operate as a society around work… well, that’s not so popular. Some people decry standing desks as a fad too.
In fact most studies also do follow-ups that show all the amazing gains and benefits are quickly lost if people return to sitting. It’s not a 21 day quick-fix - it’s a continued lifestyle change.
More than health: standing up for productivity and creativity
Those are the health risks of sitting versus the benefits of standing. But there’s another side to standing desks, a side that benefits not just our bodies but our minds too.
We all have personal improvement on our minds. We want to be more, achieve more and live life to the fullest. More productive and more creative. It’s an exciting, inspiring vision.
There’s a lot of “one weird trick” hyperbole about health and fitness as well as being productive and creative. But standing desks really could be that one simple change you need to make in order to get more creative and more productive. Never mind improving your health and wellbeing.
The demands of modern life call for more productivity and creativity too. The economy, the stresses of a globalised workplace and the rise in automation can leave people scrambling to catch up.
Everyone wants to be more productive. We want to feel that sense of achievement, or not be drowning in an endless to-do list. We want to work smarter, not harder - a modern battle cry. To get our side hustle off the ground, to be able to go home on time to spend more time with our kids or on our hobbies or hit the gym. We want to make the most of our time.
Creativity is becoming increasingly valued in all industries. The ability to problem solve and “think outside the box” is not something that robots are in danger of taking from people anytime soon.
Humans are inherently creative. Right back in our cave-dwelling days you would think we had bigger, more survival-style goals to be attending to. But still, we found time for art. Cave paintings, crafting jewellery, carving… Creativity is not some optional extra to life. It is essential to our wellbeing.
Of course our bodies and our minds are inextricably linked. It’s harder to be creative and productive when you aren’t taking care of your body. Eating well, moving your body, getting enough sleep and staying hydrated are the deceptively simple true hacks that many of us still can’t quite manage.
Standing desks marry both sides of the equation. Burning more calories and improving your body makes you feel better, makes you more creative and productive. Feeling better makes you take better care of your body - a virtuous cycle.
The history of standing desks
Standing desks have received some backlash because they appear to be a totally different way to orient your body around work. And yet, for most of human history that hasn’t been true at all.
Humans weren’t designed to sit for hours upon end and for the vast majority of history the vast majority of people didn’t.
An excellent dissection of modern work and the office comes from the book Cubed, by Nikil Saval. It highlights the beginning of office work with the clerks of the Victorian-era. Most memorably represented by the downtrodden Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol. Prior to that point it was only professionals in prestigious jobs who would work in offices, but those would be offices of their own design and they had considerable freedom. Not something that applies to cubicle dwellers in the centuries since.
Standing desks have been popular all that time though. They are not in fact a modern contraption at all. Thomas Jefferson used a standing desk, as did Winston Churchill – when he wasn’t composing his famous speeches in bed. Many of those Victorian clerks would have used a standing desk too.
Sir Ken Robinson also tackles the modern education system in his TED Talk, that it began during the industrial revolution to produce factory workers - more on which later.
So many people work in offices - but so many people hate working in offices. Keeping people happy, creative and productive is important to businesses and keeping ourselves happy, creative and productive is important to us as individuals too.
Standing to learn, standing to work
It’s easy to imagine how working at a standing desk focuses the mind. Standing up evokes action. Sitting down evokes the action of lounging on the settee watching Netflix. The more energy you are burning while doing your work the less likely you are to mess around on Facebook instead of getting things done. And people do report greater focus and concentration when using a standing desk.
Because of differing learning styles, a lot of people respond better a bit of movement. But this is drilled out of us in school. The situation is improving but for most people of working professional age school we were supposed to sit quietly at a desk all day. That’s a system that causes a lot of kids to be labelled as disruptive or difficult. Conditions like ADHD are on the rise because it’s been recognised that lots of people just aren’t wired that way.
As adults in the working world a lot of people don’t feel like they have any more say in their environment and working practices than they did at school.
For a lot of people, true creativity and productivity is unleashed when they are allowed to move their body to help them think, explore concepts
Even if you are not a more kinetic or kinaesthetic learner it is good to switch things up. Going for a walk or working in a different area can subtly shift your brain. Taking a break is important, we often talk about “getting the blood pumping” and it revitalises the mind. Plus, doing mechanical movements that occupy the front part of the brain can let the subconscious deal with the tricky issue at hand.
With a standing desk you don’t have to move away from your work to get a similar effect and enjoy these benefits. You might, because using a standing desk encourages more movement in general.
Standing meetings are growing in popularity with fans saying they are shorter, more efficient, and produce better, more creative results. Walking meetings too - another TED Talk proposes walking meetings and points to the health and creativity benefits.
Google, Facebook and all the big tech companies don’t have standing desks and table football because they look cool. These are hugely profitable companies and they know this stuff works.
It’s filtering down into education too - tackling childhood obesity as well as promoting creativity and productivity.
Stand Up Kids are a group aiming to get standing desks into every school. They say kids are more engaged when using standing desks, behave better and improve their test scores - plus all the health benefits.
A life of creativity begins in the classroom. Sir Ken Robinson has one of the most popular TED talks ever - with over 47 million views - on this very subject. Education and creativity are the topic of his amazingly engaging, humorous but also frustrating stories. In which he emphasises the importance of movement time and time again.
The key to productivity and creativity
Call centre workers using a standing desk were 45% more productive than their sitting colleagues. Group performance has been studied sitting versus standing - standing participants were more engaged and better at sharing their ideas. New York Magazine journalist Dan Kois stood for an entire month - not exactly the goal or the recommendation - but credited it as the most productive month he could remember.
A Latvian business shared their experience of switching to standing desks with a 10% boost in productivity. Other benefits they said were less quantifiable but still very noticeable included focus, higher energy levels and higher concentration on tasks.
A study looking at sitting and heart disease not only found that extended sedentary time increased the risk of heart disease by 147% but had some interesting findings on standing: improvements in self esteem and reductions in fatigue, tension and depression. The Take-a-Stand study was also mostly concerned with health but again, found benefits like less fatigue and stress, and 87% of participants reported having more energy throughout the day.
FF Venture Capital wanted a fitness-friendly office and switched to standing desks, they also found “the standing-only work set up encourages much more active participation and sharing of ideas on the white boards.”
How to experience all the benefits for yourself
A common misconception is that you have to immediately start standing for a full eight hour work day. When in fact, even the biggest users of standing desks rarely stand 100% of the time.
With a fully customisable and adjustable electric standing desk from Electric Standing Desks you can quickly switch between standing and sitting as you prefer.
Even the smallest decrease in sitting is going to give great results. When you are starting out you might just do thirty minutes a few times a day and aim to gradually increase. You could stand to do certain tasks and sit for others. Or take a thirty minute on-off approach. You might want to stand after lunch to combat your low energy levels. "I don't get the 3 o'clock slump anymore, I feel active all day long," says Greg Hoy of Facebook. Sound good?
You can integrate a standing desk into your working day and reap all the benefits - not just to your health but for your productivity and creativity too. And it can be much easier than you might think.
So not only should you be looking at avoiding sitting and getting a standing desk for all the health benefits, but to really boost your creativity and give your productivity a serious edge.