World / Science & Health

Stand-up desks get office workers on their feet


Advocates of workplace wellness initiatives are hoping 2015 will be the year that stand-up desks, historically favored by great minds from Leonardo da Vinci to Virginia Woolf, will reconfigure the modern cubicle.

Some 50 to 70 percent of people spend six or more hours each day sitting, according to a 2012 study from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.

Fitness experts say office workers are particularly susceptible to what has been dubbed the sitting disease.

“Researchers have said that sitting is the new smoking,” said Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist at Miramar College in San Diego.

Prolonged sitting is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity, and early mortality. Medical studies show that even people who are active are not immune to health concerns resulting from hours of sitting, she added.

The American Council on Exercise has offered its workers the option of standing workstations for more than two years.

“Many people report feeling more energetic. It certainly helps with mental processing,” said Dr. Cedric X. Bryant, the organization’s chief science officer.

Bryant, who works on a treadmill desk, which is attached to a treadmill, said standing helps him stay alert and focused. He believes the desks are a reasonable expense.

There are various types of stand-up desks, from free-standing workstations to others that are placed on top of a regular desk or table.

California-based Joe Nafziger was a creative director at an ad agency when he developed the ReadyDesk, a $169 adjustable stand-up desk.

“It’s definitely a worldwide thing that’s picking up speed,” said the 35-year-old, whose desks have been sold as far away as Australia, Germany and Japan.

“And I love that you’re always ready. You’re not half turned off. Leg muscles fired up, core activated,” he said, “with less stress on your spine.”

A study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health showed that over an eight-hour day standing at a desk burns an additional 163 calories compared to sitting.

Bryant said just as sitting all day is not good, neither is prolonged standing, which studies have shown can increase the risk of hardening arteries and varicose veins.

“Start by standing for a half hour or an hour of the workday,” he said, giving the body time to adjust.

The goal is to break up the day to avoid the typical, constant sitting that most do in an office.

“It’s more of a lifestyle approach: turning the clock back to where life used to be before we engineered movement out of our lifestyle,” he added.

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