Q:

Should I Get a Standing Desk?

I’ve been reading about how sitting at work all day can cause heart attacks and early death. But if I’m training 15 hours a week, should I still get a standing desk, or do I need to sit to recover faster?

Oct 24, 2012
Outside
Outside Magazine
superwoman standing desk

Are you ready for a standing desk?    Photo:Elnur

A:

There’s no doubt that spending large amounts of time sitting can be physically detrimental. Writer Mark Lukach wrote an excellent post on tech blog The Wirecutter outlining the findings of several recent studies that all conclude sitting is bad.

In one such study of Australian adults over 45, researchers found that subjects who sat for more than 11 hours per day were 40 percent more likely to die within the next three years than those who sat for less than four hours per day. Other studies have linked prolonged sitting to cancer, diabetes, reduced life expectancy, and cardiovascular disease. And the kicker, Lukach writes: “exercise only helps a little bit, or not at all,” citing a New York Times article that examines a 2008 study as the basis for this claim.

The thing is, that study examined adults who "met the [Australian] public health guideline for the minimum health-enhancing levels of physical activity,” or adults who exercised for at least 2.5 hours per week at “moderate to vigorous intensity.” These people could benefit from the extra calorie burn they’d get from standing more often.

You, on the other hand, train six times as much, so you’re right to question the wisdom behind using a standing desk—or treadmill desk—for serious athletes with sedentary jobs.

“The idea is to be recovering between sessions, but you don’t want to sit for eight hours because that won’t lead to your best recovery either,” says Nikki Reiter, biomechanist for Run S.M.A.R.T., a coaching company led by renowned running coach Jack Daniels. Particularly if you’re doing two-a-day workouts, standing or walking all day in between won’t allow you to perform your best. “Sitting is a good way to take a load off and be ready to go at your second session,” Reiter says.

But that recommendation comes with a big asterisk: “Moving about every 15 to 20 minutes would be ideal, even if it’s just standing up to stretch or to walk across the room,” Reiter says. Sitting for a prolonged period of time, she warns, flexes the front of your body and your hamstrings while elongating your backside. Going for a run after sitting all day without stretching out and moving around can lead to injury. “Your glutes won’t work to the same degree, then you’ll start dropping your hips when you’re running which can lead to IT band problems,” and a host of other issues, Reiter says.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Unfortunately, researchers have yet to pinpoint the exact amount of exercise that could negate or even oblige sitting at work. (One researcher recently told the New York Times, “a person who does a lot of exercise but watches six hours of TV” every night, sitting down, “might have a similar mortality risk as someone who does not exercise and watches no TV.” But “a lot” of exercise is not quantified.) So from what we know so far, if you’re doing some serious training it may not be in your best interest performance-wise to stand all day at your desk job. Just make sure to get up every 15 to 20 minutes to avoid injury.

Filed To: Fitness

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