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Sitting is the new smoking. Have you heard that statement before? I know I have. The initial suggestion that sitting was as harmful as smoking was laughable; probably some marketing tactic.
Time went on and soon the symptoms that were described in the article started becoming more common: low back pain, fatigue, stiffness, shooting pain down one leg or both. Could standing while you work really be the answer?
According to an article recently published in Time Magazine, the average worker spends over 75% of his or her workday in a seated position, much of that time sitting for longer than 30 minutes. The ideal period of standing time should exceed 2 hours in total, spread throughout the workday. Without it, the negative effects of prolonged sitting cannot even be reversed by regular exercise!
It was obvious that a change needed to occur, but where do you begin?
Treadmill Desk vs Standing Desk
There are two popular choices that many people look to when making the conscious choice to stand while they work: the standing desk and the treadmill desk. Be sure to do your homework and try these options first, if you have the ability to do so! I now own both options, and I will outline some pros and cons with each.
The Treadmill Desk
This was my first standup desk. I did extensive research before purchasing a treadmill desk, and read every review I could find. I settled on the LifeSpan TR1200-DT5. It was delivered to my office and set up in minutes. I rearranged my entire office, but it turns out I really didn’t need to.
The desk fit into a very compact space. I set my computer up and started walking right away. I started at a very slow pace, which was more difficult to maintain all day than when I started walking faster.
It took about a week to really get the hang of walking, talking, and typing at the same time. A nice feature that the treadmill desk offers is that you can pause it with the touch of a button. If I really needed to listen intently to a phone conversation, I could simply pause the desk.
The biggest con that the treadmill desk has is that there is no place to sit if you need to. LifeSpan does offer options for a seated desk that attaches to the treadmill desk, but I do not own that option. I have my traditional desk in my office where I sit if necessary.
The Standing Desk
I bought the VARIDESK Pro Plus 48 standing desk for my home office. The one shown here is a coworker's 36″ VARIDESK. I wanted to keep my existing office furniture, so this was a practical option for me.
It comes in two sizes: 36 in. and 48 in. I bought the larger option because I like to spread my notes out while I’m writing, and this allows for plenty of room. This also allows me to sit down if and when I need to by collapsing the desk in seconds. I can lift it back up to a standing position just as easily. It adjusts to almost any height. The ease of use is fantastic.
The only con that I can point out with the VARIDESK is that you cannot walk while you are working. I have to make it a point to walk away from my desk when I am standing in one place. My legs tend to feel more tired when I am standing in one place, which is surprising.
5 Positive Changes from Walking or Standing While I Work
I have now been walking and standing almost exclusively since 2014, and the changes are noticeable. Some of the most notable positive changes include:
- More Energy
- Decreased Back Pain
- Better Posture
- Increased Focus
- Better Body Composition
When I spent 10 hours or more sitting at my desk, I often experienced extreme fatigue. I was tired when I woke up, I would always experience the mid-afternoon slump, and I rarely had the energy to exercise when I got home. Today, the opposite is true. Even though I walk throughout the day, I am still walking at a relatively slow pace (around 2.0-2.3mph). It seems as if I am maintaining an energy level, rather than draining my energy by sitting. I look forward to exercising when I get home, and sleep much better than I did.
Before I started walking at work, I suffered from chronic low back pain. Sometimes I was so stiff from sitting all day, I could barely move! There was an adjustment period when I started walking. I had to be conscious of standing straight, rather than slouching or leaning to one side. I did not want to create any muscle imbalances due to my poor posture, so I tried to keep my body straight. The first few days, I was quite sore. I was reversing years of bad desk posture, so my body was rebelling! It was a slow process, but it has been the best benefit of them all!
Speaking of posture, I noticed that every few weeks, I was having to raise my desk. I was standing taller every week, and I could see the difference. It was more noticeable than ever when I wore a suit I had not worn for several months. Even though my weight was the same, I looked completely different in the suit because of my posture. Every move I made was easy and pain-free.
Another positive benefit that became readily apparent was my level of focus. We have a relatively open office environment, and it is very easy to be distracted by other sights, sounds, and conversations. Once I started walking while I was working, I became laser-focused. I am not a researcher, but I have to imagine it is because parts of my brain are busy handling the motor functions of my body, and there are not as many available neurons to worry about outside stimuli. Sometimes I do not even hear when others are talking to me (or maybe I’m just blocking them out)!
I already mentioned the posture changes, which were almost immediate, and changed the way I stood and carried myself. Over time, however, my body composition has changed dramatically. My weight has remained fairly stable, but the distribution of the weight is very different. The trouble areas we all seem to have as we age, such as the midsection, became noticeably smaller. My legs, on the other hand, have become more muscular.
I have read a number of articles claiming that you will lose 50 pounds or more with a treadmill desk. I know we are all different, but I have to say that is unlikely. You will experience a number of life-altering side effects, such as decreased pain and more energy, so I definitely recommend trying one if you are financially able. Both the treadmill desk and the standing desk are outstanding alternatives to sitting at your desk all day. They do take some getting used to, but you will be glad you tried it!
Natalie Lemons is the founder and President of Resilience Group, LLC, author of The Resilient Recruiter, and Co-Founder of Need a New Gig. She specializes in the area of Executive Search and Career Coaching and services a diverse group of national and international companies, focusing on mid to upper-level management searches in a variety of industries. For more articles like this, follow her blog.