Stand-up desks: fad or future?

by HCA09 Aug 2012

Chances are, you’re reading this article sitting down. This writer is writing this article, sitting down. Yet research settled the score long ago – too much sitting down shaves an average of three years off life expectancy. Is it time for HR to step in?

Throw in the daily commute, and what we do in leisure time – it’s easy to pass away 16 hours of the day sitting down. Alongside weight gain and a swag of health woes, such as heart problems, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, dangerous blood clots and some musculo-skeletal conditions, excessive sitting increases the risk of early death.

According to David Dunstan from Melbourne's Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, the so-called ‘sitting epidemic’ is growing in awareness just as the dangers of sun damage did in the previous decades. “We're starting to understand that this is a potentially large public health problem. It's such an insidious behaviour that it's sort of flown under the radar,” Dunstan said.

When we sit, in a way, the body goes to sleep. Even compared with standing still, it's striking how little we're doing when we're in our seats, Dunstan said. “There's virtually nothing going on in the muscles. Why is that so important? Well, muscle is a major metabolically active part of the body,” he said.

While out-of-hours exercise will mitigate the problems caused by excessive sitting, research has suggested that it will only do so much. Enter the standing desk.

Standing desks are available from office furniture retailers and go for between $750 and $1,500 – significantly more than the cost of ordinary desks. It’s a trend that has been slow to catch on in Australia, but has some high-profile backers in the US, and of course Silicon Valley. American researcher James Levine, of the Mayo Clinic, has even led the charge for the radical ‘treadmill desks’. Related Story: Luxury or excessive?

Yet stand-ups desks have critics. Cornell University ergonomics scholar Alan Hedge told the Washington Post it was “one of the stupidest things one would ever want to do”. “Standing increases torso muscle activity and spinal disc pressure, increases the risk of varicose veins, increases the risk of carotid artery disease and increases the load on the heart,” he said.

Council of Trade Unions economist Peter Conway also pointed out that many workers, such as bank tellers, restaurant staff, healthcare workers and shop assistants, have problems with too much standing. “Discomfort and fatigue are both clearly associated with prolonged sitting and prolonged standing,” he said.


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  • by Rachel 10/08/2012 11:49:33 AM

    Here's an idea -- have a 'standing desk' which a high chair, so that someone can do both!?

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