Use a Stand-Up Desk to Boost Your Health

Get out of your chair and onto your feet to gain muscle tone, boost circulation and improve your posture while working at a stand-up desk.

  • Stand Up Desk
    Several MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors enjoy the benefits of standing up on the job, using wooden stands to elevate computers on their traditional office desks.
    Photo by Rebecca Martin
  • Standing Desk With Shelves
    This stand-up desk built by the author to use in her home includes wall-mounted adjustable shelves.
    Photo by Tim Nauman
  • Standing Workstation
    This mobile standing workstation is made from an audiovisual cart that’s outfitted with a keyboard tray.
    Photo by Tim Nauman

  • Stand Up Desk
  • Standing Desk With Shelves
  • Standing Workstation

Many of us are far too inactive. We start our days seated for the morning commute, transition to sitting at the office all day long, plop down again to ride home, and then relax by sitting in front of the television. The afflictions of a sedentary lifestyle have been well-researched. What countermeasures might help? One is to work at a stand-up desk that can improve brain and heart function and lessen back pain — in short, offer better all-around health. And you don’t have to buy expensive commercial furniture: We’ve pulled together do-it-yourself solutions to the sitting desk problem in this article, and in “More DIY Stand-Up Desks.”

The Problem with Sitting

Considered from an evolutionary perspective, sitting all day is an unnatural state for Homo sapiens. “The workplace sitting desk is the antithesis of our native habitat,” says environmental journalist Richard Manning. “The human species derives much of its refinement, advantage and ability — especially its big brain — from the basic fact that we are upright, agile apes.”

In his recent book, Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind From the Afflictions of Civilization, Manning makes a strong case for movement as the quickest path to brain and body health. A mountain of research points to inactivity as a contributing factor to our most chronic disorders, among them obesity, heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, cancer and asthma. Our sedentary lifestyle has even been implicated in causing reduced brain function.

Much of what we know about the consequences of being sedentary comes from studies that have examined television viewing. Recent research has confirmed what the TV-watching studies show: We burn more calories when we don’t sit — to the tune of hundreds per day. Barry Braun, professor of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University, says a person would have to replace about four hours of sitting with standing to gain the benefits of a 30-minute walk. Nevertheless, there may be orthopedic and postural benefits to standing aside from the caloric expenditure. Engaging our muscles and increasing blood flow by standing up can result in better muscle tone; improved blood sugar, circulation and posture; reduced injuries resulting from tight muscles; elevated cognition; and enhanced mood. Just by standing, a body’s metabolism becomes remarkably more effective.

Setting Up a Standing Workstation

Depending on your budget, the kind of work you do and your inclination toward DIY projects, you have many stand-up desk options. Ready-made choices range from treadmills with attached computers to adjustable-height desks and extra-tall desks.

When I began to look for stand-up desks a few years ago, I found, to my dismay, that many sleek options cost upward of $1,000. Eventually, I came across a $150 bright yellow, portable cart for audiovisual equipment, retrofitted with a keyboard tray. I consulted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommendations for ergonomic workstations, and I learned that the top of a computer screen should be located at or just below eye level, with the keyboard positioned at about elbow level. Because my laptop setup didn’t meet those guidelines, I bought a separate keyboard so I could adjust its height, and so I could add a stack of books underneath my laptop to raise the screen to the appropriate height.

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