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.

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