Workspace Wellness: Standing Desks

This article is part of our Workspace Wellness series.

The use of standing desks in the workplace is continuing to rise and with good reason. In spite of the disdain that employees and employers might have once had for this new trend, the benefits of utilizing standing desks are far outweighing the expected disadvantages. While employers may have once brought standing desk models in to save on office space, there are many more upsides coming to light.

The History of Standing Desks

While the concept of a standing desk might be new to many people today, the truth is that these kinds of desks are deeply rooted in history. They can be traced back as far as the 1400s and even famed artist Leonardo da Vinci utilized one to paint the Mona Lisa. In fact, several of da Vinci’s inventions were created, while he stood at a desk similar to those we have today.

Still, the popularity of the standing desk really didn’t gain momentum until the late 1800s and early 20th century. Oddly enough, it was the upper classes of that period who were inclined to furnish their homes and offices with standing desks instead of the more popular alternative.

This trend may have been started by Job Orton, an English minister, when he declared in 1797 that standing, while reading and writing, is better for the body, than sitting and stooping over a desk. This idea was supported by an 1858 self-help book, which added that penmanship was much improved in the standing position. Following the publication of that book, the U.S. Patent Office received a number of proposals for desks that could be adjusted in height through a crank.

Over time, the industrial revolution created an entire industry of employment positions in which workers were compelled to sit at a desk or machine for entire workdays. The standing desk was all but forgotten through generations of these positions, until the late 20th century, when medical research uncovered serious health risks associated with spending hours seated in a sedentary position. As the risk of contracting such conditions as high blood pressure, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer has been linked to spending too much time in a seated position, the standing desk has seen a renewed surge in popularity.

Standing Desk in Office Space


The Benefits of Standing Desk

As mentioned, there are a number of advantages in switching from a traditional seated desk to a standing desk, the least of which is conserving office space in an already tight working space. Using a standing desk certainly has its obvious advantages, but research has uncovered some more startling benefits that come with the changes the body goes through in spending more time in a standing position.

For instance, we know that sitting at a desk for 8-10 hours a day can result in extra weight gain, but studies have found that spending those hours on your feet can actually lead to weight loss. Results vary, of course, but most people burn an extra 170 calories per day, simply by standing instead of sitting.

Diabetics may also benefit from utilizing a standing desk by reducing blood sugar levels. In a short study, researchers took 10 subjects and asked each of them to stand for 180 minutes (3 hours) after their lunch break. The subjects, all of whom normally work in office settings at traditional seated desks, exhibited a blood sugar levels 43% lower than they normally experienced.

A second study asked office workers to rotate between standing and sitting every 30 minutes. Their blood sugar spikes were reduced by 11.1% on average.

Heart health has also been shown to improve through spending significant time in a standing position. In 1953, a study found that bus conductors standing for the duration of their shift were far less likely than seated bus drivers to die from heart disease related issues.

Many people report experiencing back pain after a long day at the office, but, again, working in a standing position seems to reduce instances of back pain. A study released by the CDC showed that participants who used a sit-stand desk experienced 54% less instances of neck and back pain after just four weeks of use.

Additionally, standing desks have been shown to boost mood and energy levels, creating a more positive work atmosphere. In relation to the elevated moods, there was also a marked improvement in work productivity.

The Evolution of the Standing Desk

Today, standing desks are far more durable and reliable than they once were with high end materials ensuring that the desk can withstand up to 350 pounds of weight at its maximum height. Bamboo and walnut wood are common materials used for desk surfaces, while steel supports and mechanisms add to the strength of the product.

While standing desks once came with just one option, the crank, they now come with Pneumatic and motorized adjustment controls as well. While cranks account for the least costly option, pneumatic and motorized desks provide better ease of transition. Also, the crank can run into mechanical problems over time, especially with frequent use.

Another facet that’s new to today’s standing desk is the grommet or cable management system. Feeding your computer and USB cables through the grommet will take care. If you opt for this type of desk, be sure the cables are long enough to withstand the length of the desk, when fully extended, or a costly accident could occur. Some standing desks come with holes through which you can feed the cords and cables, while higher end desks offer powered/USB grommets that serve as a kind of an extension cord.

There are as many options and features for standing desks as there are for their seated counterparts. In the end, even a sturdy standing desk without all of the bells and whistles will still provide you with the health benefits listed here and may even give you a brighter feeling of pride in your work. Considering the options, standing desks provide better comfort, less health risks, and increased productivity.

Are you involved in a Wellness Program at your office? Share your experiences with us @BoxerWorkstyle or on Facebook.