Don't Sit Down on the Job

Man in suit stands looking out at the world

For those of us struggling to squeeze in an hour at the gym or even a casual 30-minute walk each day, here’s some discouraging research to consider.

Short bursts of exercise may not be enough to compensate for long periods of sedentary behavior—those endless hours in front of a computer screen that are part of many job descriptions.

Point blank: The 23 hours you are sitting or lying down likely cannot be balanced out by an isolated one-time daily workout.

In a study at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, the activity of 18 healthy students was monitored for 14 hours a day. Group A sat the entire time. Group B was instructed to replace one hour of sitting with an hour of vigorous exercise. Group C replaced six hours of sitting with four hours of walking and two hours of standing.

Researchers concluded that both sitting Group A and intense exercise Group B had higher insulin resistance levels (a risk factor in Type 2 diabetes) than Group C, which spread the minimal intensity exercise throughout the day.

66 Minutes, 54% Less Pain!

The Centers for Disease Control reports that reducing sitting time by only 66 minutes per day meant sedentary workers reported 54 percent less back and neck pain and an overall improvement in mood and office morale.

Conversely, the American Cancer Society warns that sitting more than six hours cumulatively per day puts you at a higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Curious about the potential benefits of using a standing desk, I recently decided to try one out for myself. For three weeks, I’ve been alternating between my regular desk and the Ergotron WorkFit-C, an adjustable sit-stand workstation.

To start, I am averaging 3-3.5 hours of standing each day. For now I switch between typing on my main computer sitting down to tapping at my laptop standing up.

Have I noticed any health benefits from my modest effort? Nothing dramatic yet, but I do seem much more focused on my tasks when I am standing. Perhaps the increased drive to finish my work faster is driven by the desire for the “reward” of relaxing when I am done.

Jane Payfer, the chief marketing officer of Ergotron, starts her day by putting her briefcase on her office chair—making it a less tempting place to sit. She stands the entire morning and then alternates sitting and standing in the afternoon.

“Most people can stand up,” Payfer says. “It’s easy and it’s free. Whether or not you buy our products, standing will give you 80 percent of the health benefits of walking and it is something that you can arrange to naturally fit into your day.”

Most standing desks range in price from $379 to $899, though one height-adjustable desk sells for $1,499. However, there are numerous cheaper DIY options on the Web for adapting your current desk, and one $18 plan for using an IKEA coffee table to raise your computer screen.

Click to See Our Sources

“Leisure Time Spent Sitting in Relation to Total Mortality in a Prospective Cohort of US Adults” by A. Patel, et al., American Journal of Epidemiology

 “Minimal Intensity Physical Activity (Standing and Walking) of Longer Duration Improves Insulin Action” by B. Duvivier, et al., PLOS One Medical Journal


The Taste for Life Staff

The Taste for Life staff come from a wide variety of backgrounds and specialties. We believe learning is a life-long process, and love to share the knowledge we gain.