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Standing Desk Benefits & Options – Why You Should Make the Switch

By Heather Levin

geekdesk standing deskHuman bodies are built for work and constant movement. However, the average person now spends nearly 10 hours a day sitting down thanks to work, TV, and commuting – and that doesn’t include sleep time. Because of this rampant inactivity, our obesity rates are skyrocketing: Currently, 68% of the American population is either overweight or obese.

If you’re like most people, you likely spend the majority of your work day sitting behind a desk, in front of a computer. But have you ever thought of standing at your computer instead? The popularity of standing desks is rising as more people discover the health benefits of standing while they work. And as a computer-bound worker who uses one of these desks myself, I can tell you from experience that the benefits are real.

My Experience

I write at home full-time, which means I used to sit for more than eight hours a day. My health and fitness is a top priority, however, so for several years I’ve used an exercise ball for my chair. Exercise balls help you move constantly throughout the day, and they also help you to burn more calories.

However, I recently transitioned to a standing desk. It’s nothing fancy, but the higher work surface keeps me on my feet and moving all day, rather than sitting down. I’ve learned to love it, as has my dog, who spends the day curled up at my feet.

homemade standing desk

I made my standing desk from items I already had around the house. I took an IKEA table I already had and extended the legs as far as they would go. I then put my laptop on a steel box, and suddenly I had a standing desk. The best part is that by the end of the day, I’m pleasantly tired. My body worked all day, even though all I did was write.

Benefits of Standing Desks

You may have heard on the news about why sitting is bad for your health. According to recent research, sitting down all day just might be one of the worst things you can do for your physical well-being. However, standing desks help to alleviate this epidemic.

1. Increased Physical Activity
Standing desks help you burn more calories throughout the day. According to JustStand.org, I burn an extra 212 calories per day with my standing desk – perhaps even more, since I listen to music while I write and often dance in place while working. The more you move while you stand, the more calories you’re going to burn.

JustStand.org has a calculator to determine how many extra calories you could burn with a standing desk. Estimates from various sources state you can burn up to 40% more calories per day with a standing desk, or even as much as 350 calories per every two and a half hours you spend on your feet.

Another benefit is that you walk more when utilizing a standing desk. For instance, when I needed a quick break while using a sitting desk, I’d continue to sit and peruse a website for a few minutes. Now when I need a breather, I walk around my office or do a few quick yoga poses. Since I’m already standing, the effort required to move about is minimal.

2. Increased Focus
I’ve noticed that since I transitioned to a standing desk, it’s easier to focus on my work. I have more energy throughout the day, and I’ve found that my mind wanders less when I’m standing. Other people I’ve talked to who also use standing desks say the same thing: They focus better when they’re moving all day.

Need more convincing? Leonardo da Vinci, Ernest Hemingway, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, and Thomas Jefferson all stood while they worked.

Drawbacks

Like anything, there are downsides to a standing desk.

1. Fatigue
You may become really tired when you first make the transition to a standing desk. When I first made the switch, I got tired after a few hours; my body just wasn’t used to standing all day. This is why it’s important to go slow – if you make the transition, start by standing an hour and then sitting an hour, and then go back to standing. If you adjust slowly, your body will become strong enough to stand for much of the day.

2. Aches
You might also find that your back hurts or your feet ache after a few hours. You can overcome this, again, by transitioning slowly to standing for longer periods. You should also wear comfortable shoes, and stand on a mat if your desk is on a hard floor.

3. Varicose Veins
Time Magazine quoted Alan Hedge, the director for Human Factors and Ergonomics at Cornell University, stating that standing all day increases the risks of carotid atherosclerosis (a degenerative disease of the arteries) and varicose veins.

Like many things in life, taking a “middle road” is best. While it’s not healthy to sit all day, it’s not healthy to stand all day either. Finding a balance between the two is your best bet.

Standing Desk Models

Retailers are finally catching on that more people want to stand while they work and have responded with a wide variety of standing desks. Here are a few options:

1. Humanscale Float Desk
The Humanscale Float Desk is handy because you can effortlessly raise and lower the height with the push of a button. This can be beneficial if you need a rest and want to sit. What’s better is that it doesn’t require electricity to function. However, the convenience comes at a cost: The Humanscale Float desk retails for around $1,600.

2. GeekDesk
The GeekDesk uses an electric motor to raise and lower the tabletop. While there are several models (and several price ranges), most desks have a wood tabletop and steel legs, differing only in size and finish.

So why would you want a standing desk with an electric motor over a model like the Humanscale Float Desk that uses quieter technology? Put simply, price: The GeekDesk retails for less than half of what you’d pay for a Float Desk. Moreover, with the GeekDesk Max, you can preset your heights so that you can simply tap a button and wait for it.

3. Kangaroo Pro
The Kangaroo Pro Junior is a desktop configuration. It’s designed to sit on top of your current desk, and elevate your computer so you can stand. Although the Kangaroo is a streamlined configuration, you still must pay $350 or more for the convenience of raising your computer to standing level.

geekdesk standing desk example

GeekDesk shown in various positions

Making Your Own Standing Desk

Most adjustable-height desks cost several hundred dollars, and some even run into the thousands. You can, however, make one yourself for a fraction of the cost.

Adjust Your Existing Desk

If you don’t work at home, check with your employer first to make sure they don’t mind you adjusting your desk.

  • Try raising your computer to standing height by placing it on top of something solid, like books, a box filled with books, or a solid case.
  • Alternatively, you can place solid items of equal height underneath the legs of your desk to raise its overall height.

The correct height can vary widely depending on your own height and work preferences. Just keep raising your work surface until you feel comfortable; your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle, and your wrists should not have to bend at all in order to type. Your wrists should not get tired when you’re working – if you feel any strain, you’re at the wrong height.

Make a New Desk

Search the phrase “make a standing desk” to discover a  range of instructions and plans for a variety of desks. People have used shelving, pipe fittings, old doors, and milk crates, and have even put chairs on top of their desks to make the conversion.

Final Word

If you make the transition to a standing desk, it’s really important to listen to your body. If you get tired, don’t push yourself to keep standing – if you do, your work will likely suffer. I noticed when I first made the switch that when I got tired, I’d start rushing through my work so I could get done and go sit down. Don’t make that mistake – take it slow, and give your body plenty of time to adjust. Remember, standing all day isn’t a good idea. Find a good  balance to avoid unnecessary stress.

Have you attempted to use a standing desk? What was the experience like?

Heather Levin
Heather Levin is a freelance writer based in Detroit, MI. She's passionately committed to living green, saving money, and helping others do the same in their life.

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  • futuremilitary

    Heather,
    I have indeed used standing desks. Due to an injury this summer, I actually couldn’t sit for about six weeks. My knees did ache as I’ve had knee problems since my teenage growth spurt. But for the most part, I didn’t mind it.

    What I’d really like to use is a treadmill desk. Those seem so beneficial!

    -Christian L. @ Smart Military Money

    • Heatherllevin

      Christian, I know what you mean about the treadmill desks. I’d love to have one too, but they’re out of my price range at this point!

  • http://www.budgetforwealth.com/ Long Pham

    I have a friend that has one of those fancy standing desk/treadmills in one. Very cool, but very expensive. I’d like to get a desk at home with a standing/sitting option someday, but for now I will settle with my temporary folding desk.

    By the way, the red chair pictured in the photos – any idea what they are called? I’ve seen them at the doctors office, but don’t know where to obtain one.

    • Sean Foley

      Long Pham, the keyword you need for those chairs is “capisco”

      -Sean

  • Economist2011

    Check out Multitable. It’s cheaper than the electric ones.

  • http://www.beyondtheofficedoor.com BeyondtheOfficeDoor

    Definitely think it’s best to take the ‘transition’ nice and slow. I remember after the first couple weeks my feet were fairly sore standing 85% of my workday. But, if anyone remembers being a kid and running around barefoot outside during summer, it takes a little bit of time for your body to adjust to any change. Same thing here – I don’t even notice standing anymore and find it’s much easier to manage my bodyweight and energy levels. Anyone else agree?

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