Sitting At A Desk Is Hazardous To Your Health: Reviews Of Standing Desks And Our Recommendation For The Best Motorized Variable Height Desk

More than a dozen studies conducted over the last ten years strongly suggest that sitting for extended amounts of time leads to disabilities as we age, starkly increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease, and could even shorten our lifespan. As an example, in a February 2014 study involving more than 90,000 women, Harvard researchers found that the more time participants spent sitting at work, driving, or watching TV, the greater their risk of dying from heart disease, cancer, or strokes. 

The risk factor is so high, and the story is prevalent in today’s media, it’s no surprise that standing desks, motorized or self adjusting, are rapidly changing the landscape of the American office, whether remote or in your own home.

With increasingly demanding work schedules, office workers and management types spend up to 10 hours a day sitting. It’s being said that sitting is the modern health equivalent of smoking.

What Is It That Makes Sitting At A Desk So Deadly?

Sitting at a desk has been directly associated with early mortality with such accuracy, that studies which can assess total time spent sitting can calculate precisely how much time you’re going to lose, and that is terrifying. 

A 2012 study found that when people reduced their sitting time to only two or three hours a day, their life expectancy increased. It is additionally reported that ovarian, prostate, lung, and endometrial cancers also had a  strong connection to prolonged sitting, and that standing can help reduce this risk.

Are standing desks or adjustable sitting/standing desks the magical answer and the solution to rising rates of diabetes, heart disease, sudden death, and obesity?

Over the last year, sales of standing type desks have doubled, as more companies invest in them for their employees. 

Even with use of the proliferation and advanced technology with seat cushions and lumbar supports, sitting for extended periods can be damaging to the spine, when in fact standing is actually beneficial for the spine, which improves muscle tone, keeps nerves and other tissues from being constantly mashed, and promotes good venous flow for blood, from the legs to the heart. 

I have personally experienced irreversible damage done to my hamstrings and buttocks, and the nerves traversing through those area, from simply the force of gravity compressing on the part of your body that must bear the weight. I’m not obese, and pretty athletic, but I’m simply not built for extended sitting. 

Many people can tolerate extended sitting for years, and may not experience any issues until the day they experience a crushing heart attack. Others develop symptoms early on, and learn that they must stand or find other postures for working other than prolonged sitting.

Sustained tightening of the abdominal and hamstring muscles can happen from sitting all day. When this happens, the mechanics of the lower back become unbalanced, causing other muscles, tendons, and ligaments to seize up. 

You can minimize this imbalance, and very quickly reverse the damage and help maintain better spinal alignment and muscle symmetry by using a standing desk, or a sit stand desk, even if you traded off sitting and standing during the course of your workday.

How A Standing Desk Can Improve Your Health

Consider this: you use far more muscles and energy by standing rather than by sitting, so standing definitely burns more calories than sitting. This could lead to less risk of obesity, and studies over the last decade have concluded that sitting for too long leads to more disability as we age, doubles the change of developing diabetes and heart disease, and could shorten lifespans. Let’s discuss the ergonomic benefits of using an adjustable height sit-to-stand desk.

If you want to improve your posture and minimize eye strain, a standing desk is a brilliant option. Standing leads to improved posture and a stronger core. Having a stronger core tightens your abdominal wall, strengthening muscles that support back and your neck. 

Extended sitting causes your vertebral column spine to wither into a harmful “C” shape, from craning your neck at your monitor while you remain at a sitting desk for hours on end. Elongating your spine and keeping a vertical and upright profile restores the natural “S” shape to your spine, promotes better circulation, lymph flow, and improves balance coordination.

Using a standing desk helps your blood flow without obstruction, and delivering more oxygen to your muscles, keeping you energized and conditioned. When you stand, this removes pressure on internal organs, particularly in the abdomen, promoting more effective oxygenation, which in turn allows everything to function better. 

This means that you’re likely to be able to concentrate longer on each task, thanks to oxygen oxygen supply with the increased energy, merely brought about because of standing up.

For every two hours you spend standing at work, you can burn an additional 340 calories a day according to a Mayo Clinic study. Remaining seated all day decreases the range of motion for all your muscle groups, whereas working at an adjustable-height sit stand desk can increase flexibility and leg strength, too.

Reduce The Risk Of Disease, Long Term Illness, And Sudden Death

People who stand also tend to walk around more, jog, run, cycle, and exercise, so there’s a reduced risk of obesity. You burn more calories when you move, even if the movement is subtle and spread over a length of time. Remaining seated all day seems to be related to reducing the body’s effectiveness in regulating blood sugar, a phenomenon known as metabolic syndrome, a precursor to type 2 diabetes. There’s a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes when you use a standing desk or sit/stand desk.

In one study of 10 office workers, standing for 2.5 hours  after lunch reduced the blood sugar spike by 43% compared to sitting for the same amount of time. Both groups took the same amount of steps, indicating that the smaller spike was due to standing rather than additional physical movements around the office. 

Another study involving 23 office workers found that alternating between standing and sitting every 30 minutes throughout the workday reduced blood sugar spikes by 11.1% on averageThe harmful effects of sitting after meals could help explain why excessive sedentary time is linked to a whopping 112% greater risk of type 2 diabetes

A recent Kaiser Permanente study suggested that men who spent at least five hours a day sitting had twice the risk of heart failure when compared to those who sit less than two hours a day engage in regular exercise often. That’s a pretty stark observation, because double the risk is scary, especially when you add triggers that could spark a heart attack or heart failure, such as job related stress, hypertension, and exertion.

As you would expect, some of the most common complaints of office workers who sit all day is back pain. This pain can be caused from prolonged use of sitting desks and several studies show that standing desks can dramatically reduce this effect

When your stress and fatigue is lowered it’s easier to do your best—and recent studies have shown a strong correlation with standing desks improving mood and energy levels. It’s easier to stay on task by standing at your desk rather than sitting. Owners of stand-up computer desks report less frequent and less intense headaches, too, than their sedentary sitting counterparts.

What Is A Standing Desk?

A standing desk, also called a stand-up, is essentially a desk that allows you to stand up comfortably while working. Many modern versions are adjustable, so that you can change the height of the desk and alternate between sitting and standing. 

They may be of the Vari-Desk style, where the desk top device sits on your existing desk and can be swung upward, or a motorized desk, scubas the desk we recommend below made by MotionGrey, which uses electric motors and a control pad to move the desk up and down vertically, with an unlimited number of desk heights available. These are referred to as height-adjustable desks, or sit-stand desks.

We Recommend MotionGrey Adjustable Desks

MotionGrey is a Vancouver based company with the mission of providing an ergonomic solution to everyday workspaces. With sitting for prolonged periods becoming such a common practice, numerous studies have shown that health complications are directly connected to this bad habit.

We advise using a fully motorized desk because its easy to operate with the touch of a button, instead of having to manipulate leg heights with removal of steel pins of manually adjusted desks, where you are required to remove everything from the desktop, and balance it as you are resetting the  desk in its new position.

The MotionGrey Team shared a common vision of creating a suitable and healthy alternative to the sitting epidemic. After extensive research and testing prototypes, their line of  Motion Series standing desks was introduced in June of 2018. From the dual motorized legs to the MG-1 memory keypad, each component has been engineered with the customer in mind to provide the best quality product at a great value. 

Whether you are a student, solo entrepreneur or a key team member of a large size corporation, their adjustable, motorized desks are applicable for home or office environments.

We looked at several supplier and manufacturers of adjustable motorized desks. The Motion Series Dual Motor Height Adjustable Desk is currently one of the industry-leading standing desks on the market. 

MotionGrey’s automated standing desks have an extended height range from as low as 24” to as high as 50”, making it suitable for many different office settings and uses. Use the integrated controller device to set your favorite sitting and standing heights, then simply press on the memory setting for your desk to conveniently return to that position.

The MotionGrey automated adjustable quickly adjusts to your desired height and is available in two finishes for both desktop and frame.

They offer three standard desktop sizes:

  • Standard:      47” x 28” x  1” thickness

  • Large:           60” x 30”  x  1” thickness

  • Extra Large:  71” x 30” x  1” thickness

The desktop weight capacity is 102 lbs, the desk is silent running when operating, so it won’t disturb other workers. You can return your MotionGrey desk with 7 days of the arrival date  of your shipment. and the unit has a solid 3 year replacement warranty, which cover the frame, desktop, electric motors, control box, and switch system, and covers defective workmanship, and defects affecting the operation and height adjusting features of the frame. 

MotionGrey also offers ergonomic office chair, anti-fatigue floor mats, and components for all of their desk units.

Standing desks are all the rage and the benefits of a standing desk are often talked about as many companies try to find alternatives to employees stuck in their seats for 8-10 hours. Sitting is not part of our biology or evolution, as we were meant to stand, stoop, bend, and maneuver our way through our daily lives while hunting and gathering.

Adjustable standing desks allow you to function at your “desk job” while standing, rather than mashing your backside and hamstring muscles in a chair. They can be custom built or you can convert a regular desk into a standing desk at no cost by elevating your computer on a platform or a small variable desk accessory. The trend right now is very hot, and products such as the Motion Grey adjustable desks have really taken off. Sales of standing desks have soared in recent years and in many areas their sales have far outpaced those of conventional desks.

Conceivably, it’s a fantastic idea and it certainly has to be better than sitting all day staring at a computer screen. But, I also love the idea of studying some of the assumptions surrounding standing desks. A common one is this: certainly it takes more effort — and extra calories — to remain upright rather than sit, and over a course of days or weeks those extra calories would add up to something significant. But is it true that one of the benefits of a standing desk is that it can help you avoid weight gain or even lose excess weight?

That’s just what researchers publishing in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health tried to answer. (Yup, there actually is such a journal.) They outfitted 74 healthy people with masks that measured oxygen consumption as a reflection of how many calories they burned while doing computer work, watching TV, standing, or walking on a treadmill. Here’s what they discovered regarding weight loss as a possible benefit of a standing desk:

  • While sitting, study subjects burned 80 calories/hour — about the same as typing or watching TV

  • While standing, the number of calories burned was only slightly higher than while sitting — about 88 calories/hour

  • Walking burned 210 calories/hour.

In other words, use of a standing desk for three hours burns an extra 24 calories, about the same number of calories in a carrot. But walking for just a half hour during your lunch break could burn an extra 100 calories each day.

Prior reports of the calories burned by standing versus sitting suggested a much higher calorie burn rate for standing, but this new study actually measured energy expenditure and likely represents a more accurate assessment.

Standing desk benefits

While the new study suggests that a standing desk is unlikely to help with weight loss or avoiding weight gain, there may be other benefits of a standing desk.. Advocates of standing desks point to studies showing that after a meal, blood sugar levels return to normal faster on days a person spends more time standing. And standing, rather than sitting, may reduce the risk of shoulder and back pain.

Other potential health benefits of a standing desk are assumed based on the finding that long hours of sitting are linked with a higher risk of

  • obesity

  • diabetes

  • cardiovascular disease

  • cancer (especially cancers of the colon or breast)

  • premature death.

But “not sitting” can mean many different things — walking, pacing, or just standing — and as the new study on energy expenditure shows, the health effects of these may not be the same. For most of these potential benefits, rigorous studies of standing desks have not yet been performed. So, the real health impact of a standing desk is not certain.

If you’re going to stand at your desk…

Keep in mind that using a standing desk is like any other “intervention” — it can come with “side effects.” For example, if you suddenly go from sitting all day to standing all day, you run the risk of developing back, leg, or foot pain; it’s better to ease into it by starting with 30 to 60 minutes a day and gradually increasing it. Setting a timer to remind you when to stand or sit (as many experts recommend) can disrupt your concentration, reduce your focus, and reduce your efficiency or creativity. You may want to experiment with different time intervals to find the one that works best for you.

It’s also true that certain tasks — especially those requiring fine motor skills — are more accurately performed while seated. So, a standing desk may not be a good answer for everyone who sits a lot at work.

What’s next?

We have seen dramatic changes in the work environment in recent years. These include open floor plans and inflatable exercise balls instead of chairs, as well as standing desks. I have colleagues who have installed a “treadmill desk” that allows them to work on a computer or video conference while walking on a treadmill. There are advantages, and perhaps some risk, that come with each of these changes. But, before we accept them as better — or healthy — we should withhold judgment until we have the benefit of more experience and, ideally, well-designed research.