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Why Standing Desks Are the Future of Workplaces

The average office worker sits for five hours and 41 minutes a day. That’s before going home and vegetating on the couch for the evening. Between long commutes to work, a day at the desk, going out to lunch or dinner and sitting down to catch the latest episode of Downton Abbey, we are becoming a sedentary species, spending as many as seven hours a day on our bottoms.

It’s a bit of a catch-22. The reason you feel so worn out after sitting all day, and the reason you need to sit after all that sitting, is because chairs create inertia. Sitting begets a desire to sit more, whereas small movements throughout the day – the kind one would make when working at a standing station – have a profound effect on the body, generating energy naturally.

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What Science Is Teaching Us

Dr. James Levine of the Mayo Clinic has conducted some startling research about the effects of prolonged sitting. He’s generated conclusive evidence for what he calls “the sitting disease.” Dr. Levine began his experiments by posing a simple question: Why do some people seem to gain more weight than others, even when eating the same amount of the same foods?

During clinical trials all participants consumed an extra 1,000 calories a day. Exercise or other lifestyle changes were forbidden. Inexplicably, some participants gained a lot of weight while others gained none at all.

The answer was in the amount of movement in a day. Participants who gained no extra weight were compensating with small movements throughout the day. These people were unconsciously moving just a little more than they did before the extra calories — taking the stairs, walking down the hall to the water cooler, etc.

What Sitting Does To The Body

The moment you sit in a chair your muscles essentially go limp. Your metabolic rate drops and your body only burns about one calorie per minute, as opposed the the three calories it will burn when in motion.

Insulin effectiveness begins to drop after just one day, which explains why sitting at a desk is a big contributor to type 2 diabetes and obesity. The enzymes that would normally be busy sucking the fat from your blood begin to plummet, and the body stops naturally burning fat

Other Diseases Linked To Prolonged Sitting

For years research has shown that sitting can lead to cardiovascular disease as well. A British study of London bus drivers, half of whom sat and half of whom stood at the wheel, found that the former experienced far more heart attacks.

Breast and colon cancer are also influenced by a person’s level of activity at the desk. One study found that prolonged sitting may be responsible for nearly 100,000 cancers deaths in the U.S.

Several other studies in Australia and the U.S. have shown that reducing sitting time can actually prolong your lifespan. By reducing sitting time by at least three hours per day, a person can expect to live an extra two years.

How To Fight “The Sitting Disease”

It’s important to note that all of these studies looked at external factors like exercise, diet and medical history and found that sitting is a stand-alone issue, not necessarily influenced by other factors. That means you can’t offset all that sitting simply by overdosing on exercise later in the day.

The best way to fight the “sitting disease” is to take advantage of constant opportunities for movement. Have the option to stand on the job, not necessarily all day long, but at least for a few hours per day. This alone will help to burn an extra fifty calories per hour, not to mention combat the dreaded sitting disease.

How To Construct The Perfect Standing Work Station

1. Prop up the legs of your old desk on concrete blocks, until it gets to a height where your arms are at 90° when typing. Another option is to place a small table on top of your desk. You can get something cheap at Ikea. A high office chair will be helpful for sitting in between bouts of standing, so that you don’t have to transform your workstation every time you get tired.

2. Tilt your computer screen to about 20°.

3. Get a gel pad for standing on, and remove your shoes if possible. You can find these on Amazon, or else in the kitchen section of your local home furnishings store.

4. Put a small box or step stool near your feet, so that you can shift your weight from one foot to the other.

A Few Final Tips

You will get tired and want to sit, which is okay. Make sure you have a chair on hand. The goal is not to stand for eight hours a day, but rather to move around more, spending time on your feet and time on your bottom.

You will need to take off those high-heeled boots. Comfortable shoes are a must, and barefeet on a gel mat will probably be the most comfortable. If you can alternate back and forth between a few different options, so much the better.

The goal is to change your posture often and move around. Just as sitting all day can cause disease and discomfort, so can standing all day. You’ll need to strike your own balance.

As Dr. Levine himself points out, this is about more than just the sitting disease. This is about nations of people who’ve been duped into working in a cubicle for eight hours a day, allowing their creative energies to be soaked-up by their office chairs.

Standing workstations may just be your first line of defence in the war on inertia, reawakening the energies that office chairs have been sapping for so long.

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