Ergonomic Workstation Guidelines: Sitting vs Standing Desks

By Alex Hoffmann on October, 13 2021
Lifestyle Safety / Injuries
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Alex Hoffmann

Dr. Alex Hoffmann is the President of the College of Exercise Science. He earned a doctorate in Sports Management from the United States Sports Academy, a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton, and a bachelor's degree in exercise science from Central College. Prior to his career in academia, Dr. Hoffmann worked as Master Fitness Trainer course instructor for the United States Army, and as a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, and nutritionist.

Ergonomic Workstation Guidelines: Sitting vs Standing Desks

Work from home is here to stay! Big tech companies like Apple have been receiving pushback from employees who have come to love their new work-from-home lifestyle. But, working from home, although delightful for some, has caused health issues for others. Not having to commute to work or walk across the office for a brief chat with a coworker has added to America's already sedentary lifestyle, increasing chances of chronic health issues including heart disease and obesity.

In this article, we’ll discuss why standing desks are gaining popularity, whether they are good for you, and how to pick one that is right for you.


Why Are Standing Desks So Popular?

Standing desks have been gaining popularity for a while now, especially since "sitting is the new smoking" style articles and posts have been popping up. To be fair, sitting can't be compared to smoking. The downsides of smoking are far more severe and quitting smoking is a lot harder than getting on your feet and moving. Not to mention, some amount of sitting in the day is harmless compared to the fact that any amount of smoking is harmful. 

Many of us do a lot of sitting in our day; we sit and eat, sit at our desks for work, sit and chat, sit and chill, sit in a car and drive, just to name a few. Most people consider switching to a standing desk to avoid a sedentary lifestyle.

As you might expect, after getting a standing desk people are likely to walk around more when prolonged standing gets uncomfortable. It also helps overcome the inertia to continue sitting that we all feel way too often. 


Are Standing Desks Good for You?

When it comes to health and well-being, one size hardly ever fits all! A standing desk has many benefits (the next section is all about that), but it may not fit into everyone's lifestyle.

Participating in a Zoom call on a standing desk or even a walking desk (yes, those are a thing) is doable. But drawing, sewing, or other activities that require fine motor skills might be too challenging to do while standing.

So, is standing at a desk better than sitting at a desk?

The answer depends on each client's unique needs. It is clear from different studies that standing up burns more calories than being seated. But it may not be suitable for people who have varicose vein-related issues.

On the other hand, people who suffer from spinal compression have found relief working from an ergonomic standing desk. And standing desks have been found helpful in reducing pressure on the neck and lower back pain.

As is the case with starting anything new, starting slowly is the key. Increasing standing time gradually helps prevent excessive fatigue and pain in the feet. Clients can start with as little as 5 minutes of standing and work up from there.


What Do Standing Desks Help With?

Health benefits related to good posture and proper workplace ergonomic are wide-ranging. Let’s find out how good office ergonomics can help you and your clients feel more energetic and help prevent weight gain.

Boosts moods and energy levels  

Several studies have suggested that people who use standing desks have more energy and stamina and less fatigue. They tend to feel less tired throughout the day and report feeling more positive. Interestingly, going back to the old office work desk practically erased the benefits people reported.

Increases productivity

Everyone knows that having a better mood and more energy leads to increased productivity. Did you also know, standing desks increase productivity for people suffering from backaches? Imagine having chronic back pain. It would invariably affect productivity. Standing up helps with back issues and reduces pressure on the back, allowing people to work pain-free and stay motivated to get more office work done.

Improves concentration and focus

Another set of studies have revealed that the brain performs better when people are standing during a task. This means standing and working can increase focus and concentration, leading to better performance.

Decreases blood sugar levels

After each meal, the blood sugar in our bodies spikes, the higher the level is, the more detrimental it is for your health. That is especially true for individuals who have or are at risk for type 2 diabetes. Different studies have found that standing after a meal or alternating between sitting and standing positions throughout the day helps reduce blood sugar levels by as much as 43%. 

Reduces risk of heart disease

Another great reason to invest in an ergonomic standing desk is to help reduce the risk of heart disease. Some studies suggest that prolonged sedentary time increased the risk of heart disease by 147%. Periodically standing can help mitigate such a risk.  

Boosts confidence

A good mood helps people feel more confident! Better posture also helps with overall confidence. Using a standing desk can help improve posture and making people look and feel more confident. Exuding confidence and positivity is helpful when joining important video calls, part of the office workers' new norm.


How Long to Stand vs How Long to Sit

Just like too much sitting can be problematic, too much standing can cause problems. Pregnant women should not stand for more than four hours during the day or they may risk going into preterm labor. Other common side effects of prolonged standing include lower back and leg pain, cardiovascular problems, fatigue, and discomfort.

When clients are are new to using a standing desk, the best way to go about it is to start small. Begin with just 5 minutes of standing a couple of times a day. Then increase it to 10, 15, 20, 30, 45, and 60 minutes, and if that feels comfortable, try standing for a couple of hours each day. 

An anti-fatigue mat will help ease clients into standing and prevent aches and pains once they're used to it.

However, if working a job that requires a lot of sitting, then the best case is to follow an alternating sit stand schedule. The aim should be to not sit or stand for too long continuously.


How to Choose the Best Standing Workstation

The standing desk or workstation must be customized to each individual's needs. First, consider work requirements. Then, consider these qualities when searching for a standing desk: 

  • An adjustable standup desk: A height adjustable desk usually comes in one of two types:
    • Electric standing desk: The desk comes equipped with levels and settings that allow you to adjust the height of the table with just the push of a button.
    • Manual standing desk: Manual desks require a bit more physical effort to adjust the height of the table, with some being more challenging than others.
  • A stable desk with sufficient weight capacity to prevent any mishap or damage while using it.
  • A standing workstation with sufficient desktop space, so clients don't have to shift between different workspaces.
  • A desk that is affordable and fits the budget. 

An electric standing desk may be more convenient for at-home office workers so long as there is enough room for it to move up and down.

Eco-conscious consumers can choose a sustainable solid wood desk like the birch, oak, walnut, or maple ones from Harmoni Desk.

Some desks come with added accessories like a monitor arm to reduce eye strain and a keyboard stand to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

There are plenty of options to suit anyone's needs...remember, there are even treadmill desks for personal trainers who want to get a nice jog in while reading their latest CEU.


Ultimate Ergonomic Workstation Setup

The best way to set up an ergonomic workstation and avoid back pain, fatigue, and boredom, is to fit it specifically to the client's body. This can be best achieved by using a sit-stand desk.

A person shouldn't have to overreach for the phone, computer screen, keyboard, etc. Place the computer screen directly in front of the person. It isn't good to look down or up to see the screen.


How to Sit Properly at a Desk

Getting the standing desk alone will not solve the issue of bad posture and related ailments. To reap the maximum benefit of the standing desk, it is vital that the desk height is correct.

Make sure the head, neck, and spine are in a straight line. The right level or height can be determined by placing the wrists flat on the desk with the elbows at a 90-degree angle.  

It's also fine to sit on a stability ball to help increase core strength.

If a client is new to exercise and doesn't have a lot of time for the gym, the stability ball (in place of a chair) can give them the benefit of activating deep core muscles to help strengthen the core. A stronger core leads to a stronger back and less back pain.


Healthy Ergonomics at a Standup Desk

How tall should a standing desk be? When deciding the desk height, remember that the top of the screen should be at or slightly below eye level while in the standing position. This is why buying a height-adjustable desk is essential. 

An anti-fatigue mat is a good addition to any ergonomic workspace to prevent and soothe any aches resulting from prolonged standing. 

When transitioning to a standing desk setup, it is crucial to allow the body time to adjust and accommodate. Introducing this change slowly into a daily routine will make the transition easier and more enjoyable. 

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Alex Hoffmann

Dr. Alex Hoffmann is the President of the College of Exercise Science. He earned a doctorate in Sports Management from the United States Sports Academy, a master's degree in kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton, and a bachelor's degree in exercise science from Central College. Prior to his career in academia, Dr. Hoffmann worked as Master Fitness Trainer course instructor for the United States Army, and as a strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer, and nutritionist.

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