BY NOW, you’ve probably heard that “sitting is the new smoking.” And you probably know a smug cubicle dweller who won’t shut up about how great he feels after switching to a standing desk.
Cedric X. Bryant, the chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise, sums up sitting in one word: “Bad.” That’s because most of your body’s systems are negatively affected when you take a seat. “People develop lower-back issues from near-constant sitting,” he says, adding that it can wreak havoc on your posture. “They will gain body fat — the abdominal kind — which results in a greater insulin resistance. And that can lead to Type 2 diabetes.”
Although standing desks have been popular in Europe for the last 20 years, they’ve only recently made inroads in Australia and the US. And as they become de rigueur in certain offices, a new wave of advancements and accessories are angling for the spotlight.
Bouker Pool, 43, a New York investment banker switched to a standing desk in his home office five years ago after reading about the detrimental health effects of sitting. “I have more energy throughout the day and no longer experience the 3pm bonk,” he explains. His company’s CEO followed his lead and made the switch.
And when Pool heard about the Level, a surfboard-like platform meant to be used with an existing standing desk that requires you to constantly shift your weight to keep balance, he was one of the first people in New York to buy it when it launched earlier this year. “The key to the standing desk is you have to keep moving,” he says, otherwise you’ll feel discomfort.
David Katz, a 51-year-old lawyer from Larchmont, switched to the Level several months ago. He says taking conference calls while standing took getting used to, though it wasn’t too difficult. “If I have a lot of documents to review, sitting down is more efficient,” he says.
John Morton, 46, a creative director who works in New York’s Union Square, started feeling lower-back pain at the end of each workday and decided to invest in a standing desk in March. He paired it with Focal Upright’s Locus Leaning Seat, which gives him something to rest against if he gets tired of standing. It rocks the pelvis forward, which helps properly align the spinal column and engage the core muscles. “I have no more lower-back pain,” says Morton, who noticed results within a few weeks.
Other devices can even help you torch calories. Buffalo-based Danielle Andalora-Sherman, 41, started using the DeskCycle — a device you place at your feet that allows you to pedal quietly — two years ago. She used it for about six hours each day and lost eight pounds — and has kept it off. “I never got sleepy at my desk,” she says. “I could focus when I was pedalling.” And while her co-workers teased her at first, two of them eventually ended up buying the device.
But you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get on your feet at work, says Bryant. Setting a timer every hour to remind you to move — or making it a habit to stand while you’re on the phone — can help combat the negative effects of sitting. Try not to sit for more than three hours per day: “There’s evidence that by making that simple change,” Bryant says, “you could add two years to your life.”
HOW DO THE NEWEST STANDING DESKS STACK UP?
The product: The Level
What is it? A surfboard-like platform that requires users to constantly balance. Starts at $A394.
Expert opinion: This might be too hard (and distracting) for the average office worker, says Bryant, but might be helpful for people who are already fit and looking for a stability challenge.
The product:Stir Kinetic Desk
What is it? An embedded touchscreen tells you when to stand up and sit down, based on what you program into the desk. It can even learn your standing habits. Starts at around $A4000.
Expert opinion: While it’s great that activity reminders are integrated into the desk, Bryant says you can get a similar effect — for free — by setting alerts on your computer or smartphone.
What is it? A sleek desk tricked out with multicoloured flashing lights that encourage you to stand if you’ve been sitting too long. Starts at $A4677.
Expert opinion: Like the Stir Kinetic Desk, Bryant appreciates the gee-whiz tech factor, but says there are cheaper ways to remind yourself to get moving.
What is it? Placed under a regular desk, it allows you to quietly pedal without distracting co-workers. Retails for $A212.
Expert opinion: While it’s a viable option to stay active, Bryant says it shouldn’t replace regular get-up-and-walk-around breaks throughout the day.
The product:Locus Leaning Seat by Focal Upright
What is it? Used in conjunction with a standing desk, resting on this seat rocks your pelvis forward, neutrally stacking your spinal column and engaging your core muscles. Retails for $A955.
Expert opinion: The seat engages your abs just like sitting on a stability ball.