Standing Desks: Do they add years to your life?

With recent research proving that the more we sit for prolonged periods, the earlier we may die, standup desks are becoming increasingly popular in the workplace.

Approximately five years ago, a new aquatic fitness fad emerged on lakes, inlets, rivers and oceans: standup paddleboarding, aka ‘SUP,’ which involves navigating with carbon-fiber paddles on boards resembling surfboards on steroids. 

In 2013, another wellness fad is in its embryonic stages: standup desks. Perhaps they will eventually be referred to as ‘SUDs’; henceforth in this article, they will be. 

Last year, one of the biggest health stories was the study of over 200,000 adults that concluded, “Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for all-cause mortality, independent of physical activity.” 

In other words, even if you manage to hit the gym for an intense 60-minute cardio-blast class a few times a week, if you’re seated or inert for the other 23 hours of the day, there’s a good chance you won’t live as long. 

This well publicized study and others like it (there were at least three different well-publicized sedentary studies published in 2012) perhaps serves as the catalyst for the growing number of desk-jockeys who now use a SUD at their work stations. 

Several online furniture and office equipment retailers offer SUDs; Do-it-yourself, crafty types can create their own SUD with minimalist tools. (Click here to access the list of equipment that only costs $22 to build a makeshift SUD.)

How popular are standing workstations?
With the latest research estimating that approximately 80 percent of our workday is spent seated, it’s no wonder that sales of SUDs are increasing. Although total sales figures for these ergonomic alternatives are hard to come by, Steelcase, a leading brand of high-end office furniture, reports that sales of its non-seated workstations have increased five-fold in the last five years; today, these healthier work stations generate more than $40 million for the company.

Another company, Ergo Desktop, sells a version of a SUD that converts standard desks to a standup variety. Ergo predicted last year that sales figures for their SUD attachment was triple that of 2011.

Internet behemoths like Facebook and Google are adding dozens of these standup stations at their campuses.

What type of standup desk should I get? 
It depends upon budget and how much space you need. Frugal varieties can be purchased for under $200. Rolls-Royce varieties of standing desks sell for almost $10,000 (chauffeur not included). 

One of the higher-end varieties of standing work stations is a treadmill work station (which typically are priced from approximately $1000-$3000). Some companies sell stations that include a brand-new treadmill; others sell attachments that you can mount if you already own a treadmill.

If you prefer to alternately stand at sit at your workstation, several different models starting at approximately $160 are available. More expensive varieties feature programmed settings that with the touch of a button will raise or lower the desk.

If your workstation requires more than one monitor and room for several files or papers, curved standing desks are an option. 

Need room for only a laptop? One model features a pneumatic lever that can be adjusted for standing or seated positions. It also has a tray that pops out either on the left or right side; a cup holder, a fan and USB plug to keep your computer’s internal fans from overheating; a tilting shelf for better eyesight alignment and rolling casters for easy relocation. This model costs roughly $200 (and is the one I use; see picture above). 

Should I try to stand all day at work from now on?
At least one prominent researcher says “no.” Alan Hedge directs the ergonomics program at Cornell University. Quoted in a New York Times article, he suggested that working from a standing position has been long known to be problematic, in part because it dramatically increases the risks of carotid atherosclerosis because of the additional load on the circulatory system. Standing all day, he said, also increases the risks of varicose veins. 

A good compromise, then, would be work desks that can be alternately raised or lowered. While lowered, it might be ergonomically prudent and healthier for blood circulation to be seated on an exercise ball.

With nearly 20 percent of the U.S. government’s budget spent on healthcare, much of it paying for highly-preventable chronic conditions due to sedentary lifestyles, such as obesity, SUDs offer an affordable and simple solution to get Americans off their butts more--though one variety of a healthier workspace allows the user to be seated while exercising: The FitDesk, a stationary bike with a laptop stand.

Judd Handler is author of "Living Healthy: 10 Steps to Looking Younger, Losing Weight and Feeling Great" and can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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