Stand up for your health! Benefits of sit to stand desks…

Did you know you can lose weight and get healthy just by standing a little more through the day? 

For those who are interested… read on!

By Cassandra Zaina, Specialist Occupational Health Physiotherapist FACP, APA Titled Musculoskeletal/Manipulative Physiotherapist

I guess you have heard about the adage ‘sitting is the new smoking’.

Well, it really does seem to be true.

A 2011 American study reports that prolonged sitting is linked with a higher risk of many types of cancer.

They state that breast and colon cancer are most influenced and suggest that prolonged sitting could be responsible for as much as 49000 cases of breast cancer and 43000 cases of colon cancer ANNUALLY in the US. Frightening.


The same study found that a significant number of cases of lung cancer (37 200), Prostate cancer (30 600) endometrial cancer (12 000) and ovarian cancer (1 800) could also be related to excessive sitting.

They are not sure as to how this occurs, but scientists have identified a number of biomarkers that are present in greater levels in those who sit for long periods that may be associated with the development of cancer.

Prolonged sitting also carries an increased risk of diabetes, weight gain, low back strain, cardiovascular disease… and….(gulp)… death!

An American study found that if a person reduced their sitting time to three hours per day, their life expectancy would climb by two years.


Ok so now that I am standing up while I am typing this I already feel better!

For those of you who haven’t seen a sit to stand desk, it is a desk that you can press a button to raise or lower the desk, to enable people to alternate between sitting and standing.

Humanscale Float Desk

Humanscale Float Desk

For an example see 

Humanscale Quickstand

Humanscale Quickstand

There is also a smaller device that sits on a standard desk and enables people to move from sitting to standing

The truth is, this concept has been around for some time.

Even before the current  electrified sit to stand desks, famous people who have used standing desks include Winston Churchill, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Donald Rumsfeld, the Duke of Wellington and Benjamin Franklin.

The difference is that the original versions existed as one desk to stand at, and an alternate desk to sit at.  This probably worked fine when people just had to move their writing pad from one desk to the other.

Now that we have 1-2 computers, phone(s), document holders, a keyboard, mouse, and are prolific multi-taskers, we really want to be more efficient in moving between sitting and standing, and hence the ‘sit to stand desk’ was born.

For those of you who are ready to take the plunge, there are a few things to keep in mind. 

Firstly, you need to ease into it, as essentially you are strengthening your body and preparing it to stand more, which is something it may not have done for some time.

The best way is to intersperse short periods of 30 minutes of standing into your day.  Gradually build the number of standing periods, and/or the duration of standing.

It is important to move between one position and the other, rather than standing for half a day then sitting for half a day (or vice versa).  This is because your body gets tired in active standing and then may adopt some compensatory postures, such as standing with your weight on one leg and popping your hip out to the side.  This may lead to a hip bursitis problem etc, and essentially is a result of your core and general trunk and leg muscles not having the required endurance to stand for that long.

So if you are standing and you feel tired, start to notice you are slouching on the desk, or popping one hip to the side, then sit down for a bit.  When you have had a rest for a while, you can then resume your standing posture again.

To reduce general trunk muscle fatigue, if you move around a little, by taking a step here and there, change your position, or feel like you’re dancing around a bit, this will strengthen your body, improve circulation, wake up your brain, and hey, you might even get a date out of it.

Secondly, when you move from sitting to standing, make sure you can elevate the screen so that you are able to still look straight ahead to the top toolbar on the monitor.  As you rise to standing, your monitors need to rise with you. 

The desk level should be such that your forearms are horizontal with your hands resting on the keyboard.  Once you have your height, you will know as it will feel very comfortable.

Microdesk Document StandThirdly, i should mention that if you read from papers whilst typing, I highly recommend the Microdesk which sits between the keyboard and monitor.

This reduces flexing, twisting and side bending of the neck and has relieved many patients of neck, upper back and shoulder pain.

This handy contraption is strong and can be moved forward over the keyboard for longer periods of reading or writing, or alternatively the keyboard can be pushed underneath when more desk space is needed for other tasks.

The fourth point is that it is still important to keep frequently used items within easy reach, usually within a radius of about 30cm from your body.  This reduces the need to reach which may aggravate shoulder, neck and back pain.

So now you’re all ready to begin.

In no time at all you will feel the benefits and wonder why you were sitting for so long!

Just to recap the benefits:

  • Improved energy

  • Reduced load on the back, hips and thighs

  • Reduced risk of obesity

  • Reduced risk of diabetes

  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease

  • Reduced risk of blood clots

  • Reduced risk of cancer

  • Improved lifespan

If you want to find out how many calories you will burn in standing versus sitting, look up this great calculator: 

For the final words of advice regarding Sit to Stand desks, i will leave it to the expert Professor Alan Hedge from Cornell University and Syracuse University in New York.  I  hope you enjoy his comments and hope you stand up for your health….

Sit to Stand Desks – The Benefits

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