Standing Desks: What to Know Before You Buy

We doubt standing desks are what Gloria Estefan had in mind when she released “Get on Your Feet,” yet the same words have become the go-to mantra for office workers looking to live healthier. The list of negative health consequences that come from sitting all day seems to grow longer all the time. In addition to the potential for weight gain, slouching over your screen all day can make you grumpy and increase your risk for cancer.

This is where standing desks come in. Many working professionals have made the switch to a station that keeps them on their feet, and often find they love it. On the flip side, some have ended up hating their standing desks. Before you place your order, you really need to think things through. Check out these pros and cons to figure out if more time upright will work for you.


worksace with a man at a standing desk and a woman on a laptop

Source: iStock

Keeps you fitter: While it probably comes as no surprise to hear standing burns more calories than sitting, you probably don’t realize how much of a difference it can actually make. In order to figure out the difference, BBC News partnered with the University of Chester to perform a small study where they asked 10 individuals to stand for at least three hours every day over the course of a week. The researches found subjects’ blood glucose levels returned to normal more quickly after a meal when standing as opposed to sitting. Additionally, the team discovered standing burns roughly 50 more calories per hour than sitting, which can really add up over the course of a week.

There’s more good news. A recent study conducted at the University of Queensland found replacing two hours of sitting with two hours of standing can also improve cholesterol levels. Walking was found to be even more beneficial, and that brings us to our next point.

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

More likely to move: The key to longevity isn’t necessarily rigorous workouts. Simply incorporating more movement into your day can be just as beneficial as hitting the gym, especially if you spend the rest of the day seated  after a workout. Though standing is still stationary, it increases the likelihood that you’ll actually move around your office more often. Think about it: getting out of a chair requires a certain level of consciousness and effort. If you’re already on your feet, you’re halfway to walking.

Research supports this idea. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health monitored the activity levels of workers for four weeks after giving them sit-stand desks. At the end of the trial, researchers found participants added 4.8 minutes of activity to every hour. This equates to more than 38 minutes during an eight-hour workday.

Promotes better posture: Unless you have the unique ability to consciously remember to keep yourself properly aligned, it’s likely sitting is wreaking havoc on your body. The Washington Post highlighted the ways the slumped posture most of us assume can damage our hips, abs, glutes, and backs. According to the article, those who sit the most have the highest risk for herniated disks.

Furthermore, it’s tough to leave the hunched position behind once you’ve gone home for the day. The Wall Street Journal explained hunching over your desk can translate to bad posture while standing and walking. It’s certainly possible to cause similar damage if you’re standing in an odd way, but it’s less likely. Mayo Clinic said to keep in mind the spine’s natural curve when standing. You want to keep your shoulders back, your stomach pulled in, and your weight evenly distributed between your feet.

Better concentration: Some people worry they won’t be able to focus on their work while standing. After you get the hang of it, you might be surprised just how productive you can be while on your feet. Researchers from Texas A&M Health Science Center decided to investigate the relationship between standing and classroom engagement among elementary school students. Their results showed the youngsters using standing desks were actually more engaged than their sitting peers.


man experiencing back pain

Source: iStock

Aches and pains: While standing can lead to physical improvements, too much time on your feet can also be bad. U.S. News & World Report explained standing for prolonged periods of times puts a lot of pressure on the spine, which can lead to lower back pain. Some people also find standing for too long leaves them with sore feet. Cushioned mats can help, but those who have existing problems might find the pain too much to handle.

Expensive: Probably the biggest drawback to purchasing a standing desk is, well, the purchasing. The best models can run well over $1,000. You can certainly find less expensive ones, but you don’t want to shell out hundreds just to wind up with something that breaks in a few months. If you’re committed to the idea of making the shift, The Wirecutter offered some good options that aren’t quite so pricey.

Not always compatible with laptops: Most standing desks are designed for use with desktop computers. Many models come with two levels or a raised mount to separate your keyboard and monitor. If you use a laptop, this doesn’t work so well. Either your hands will be too high to type comfortably, or you’ll be hunched over the keyboard. You can buy a separate mouse and keyboard to keep at the lower level, but it does involves additional investment.

Bulky: A true standing desk is no small piece of furniture. Depending on your work area, it may not be practical for the space. If you’re still unsure of whether or not you want to take the plunge, try using a model designed to modify a sitting desk.

More from health & Fitness Cheat Sheet: