People with desk jobs work for hours on end—and prefer to do it standing
When being on your feet is better than being on your butt
Some have called sitting “the smoking of our generation,” and when you look at the research behind the slogan, it’s not hard to see their point. Staying seated for too long lowers metabolism, slows the rate at which the body burns calories, and increases risks associated with diabetes and obesity. Sitting down is not harmful on its own, of course, unless done in excess—but in a world where so many jobs are going digital and requiring more and more desk time, whether at the computer or in meetings, “sitting down in excess” is becoming a way of life.
Enter the standing desk. It’s exactly what it sounds like. They first became prominent in the 18th and 19th centuries and were used by luminaries the likes of Benjamin Franklin, Virginia Woolf, and Ernest Hemingway. In more recent years, these standing desks have begun to regain some of their former popularity, mostly for their purported health benefits.
The logic is sound: if spending too much time sitting down can be detrimental to your health, then a desk that forces you to remain standing to do your work is likely to be good for you (or at least will stave off some of the health risks associated with staying seated for hours on end).
And there is some evidence to support the theory, especially for calorie burning. A 2013 study, conducted by the BBC together with Dr. John Buckley and a team from the University of Chester, found that standing causes the heart to beat roughly 10 beats per minute higher than sitting down, which amounts to an extra 50 calories burnt per hour. When one considers the amount of time spent at a desk each day, one realizes how quickly this will add up.
Critics point out, however, that just as sitting down for hours on end can be detrimental to one’s health, so too can standing in the same position for too long. The real problem, they attest, is how sedentary our lives have become. And while standing desks do ensure that we don’t spend eight hours per day on our butts, we can’t then spend those eight hours as unmoving—but standing!—statues and expect things to miraculously get better.
Business writer Nilofer Merchant in her 2013 TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talk emphasized her belief that “fresh air drives fresh thinking.” In addition to standing, she advocated the walk-and-talk meeting, a technique used by the likes of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, as a way both to improve health and stimulate creativity. Ultimately, the standing desk can be a crucial first step, but from there, as with everything, it’s down to us to keep walking.