The surprising effect a standing desk can have on both your body and mind

Considering investing in a standing desk for your working from home set-up? Here’s everything you need to know about the potential benefits of doing so – and how to use one properly. 

You don’t need to be an expert to know that staying active is important for your mental and physical health. 

There’s a reason why so much attention has been paid to the benefits of walking during the pandemic – without work and social commitments to get us out of the house, and with the pressures of lockdown taking their toll on our collective mental health, taking steps to ensure that you’re moving your body on a regular basis has never been so important.

If you haven’t already considered it, investing in a standing desk could be one way to do just that. Often sold as an add-on to a pre-existing desk, standing desks are designed to negate some of the negative health impacts of sitting down all day in front of a computer – something you’re probably doing a lot more of while working from home.  

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But are standing desks as good as people say they are? And are they really an effective way to move more while working from home?

With many of us set to work from home at least some of the time for the foreseeable future, we reached out to Simona Zacharova, clinical lead at Vitrue Health, a company that provides businesses with recommendations on how to give their employees a healthier WFH set-up, to find out whether standing desks are actually worth it. Here’s what she had to say. 

What are the benefits of using a standing desk? 

As you might expect, one of the main benefits of using a standing desk is that it promotes good posture, which is good for us for a number of reasons.

“Sitting is one of the worst positions we could spend the entire working day in,” Zacharova explains. “It puts pressure on our lower back, weakens hip muscles and it is also quite hard to maintain a straight position while sitting all day, so often people start to slouch which further worsens the situation. All of this creates aches and pains in the upper back and neck, affects digestion, and can prevent us from taking the ideal deep breaths needed to get oxygen for our body and brain.

“A standing desk allows the user to spend some time in the standing position, which in contrast to sitting keeps your lower back and hips in a more neutral position with your lower body muscles active to keep you steady and balanced.”

When you are standing it is easier to straighten up and breathe deeper, which helps to maintain energy levels and a better mood

On top of providing benefits for our musculoskeletal health, a standing desk can also alleviate some of the other negative health impacts of sitting down all day, both for your physical and mental health. 

“[A standing desk] helps to reduce the risks that are associated with sitting, such as weight gain and heart disease,” Zacharova adds. “Also, when you are standing, it is easier to straighten up and breathe deeper, which helps to maintain energy levels and a better mood.”

On top of providing a boost to your mood and energy levels, a standing desk could even help to boost your productivity levels, too. In a study published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) back in 2018, it was found that those who swapped their regular desks for sit-stand workstations reported better engagement with their work and fewer musculoskeletal problems. 

Using a standing desk can negate some of the negative impacts of sitting down all day.

So, is using a standing desk an effective way to move more while working from home? 

Although working at a standing desk still requires you to stay still while going about your work, if used properly it’s an effective way to ensure you’re switching position throughout the day.

“Standing for a long time is as bad as sitting for prolonged periods… the key to good desk health is to swap positions often,” Zacharova explains. 

“With a standing desk it is recommended that you use it in around a one-to-two ration, which means for every hour you spend sitting, swap to standing for 30 minutes. Although research on this is constantly evolving and new ratios are being proposed, the above is a good benchmark.” 

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With this in mind, because (when used correctly) a standing desk prompts you to move position on a regular basis, it can be a great way to ensure you’re staying active throughout the day, which is important even if you’re someone who does regular exercise.

Of course, it’s worth noting that, while a standing desk may ensure you’re moving regularly, engaging in some form of exercise on a regular basis (the NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week) is also important.  

What is the correct way to use a standing desk? 

If you think a standing desk could be a good addition to your WFH set-up, it’s important to go about it the right way. 

Firstly, you don’t need to invest in a super expensive desk just to try it out.

“You can get away with any raised surfaces that you have at home (e.g. try some books on a raised counter to get the correct height),” Zacharova explains. “The surface needs to be level with your elbows and have enough space to rest your wrists and to set up your monitor and keyboard in an ergonomic way.”

That last point is important. Whether you decide to create a makeshift set-up or buy a premade standing desk, making sure it’s in the correct position for your height and build is essential.  

If a standing desk is new for you it’s a good idea to start with one to two hours a day

“The height of the standing desk should be adjusted to the level of your elbows when you are standing straight with shoulders relaxed down,” Zacharova says. “Your screen should be adjusted so that it is at eye-level to decrease the chance of neck pain and headaches.”

When it comes to working out your standing to sitting ratio, Zacharova recommends that you listen to your body at first while you get used to it, before trying build-up to the one-to-two ratio mentioned above.

“If a standing desk is new for you it’s a good idea to build up on working in a standing position slowly, starting from one to two hours a day. Also, don’t forget to take plenty of short breaks to move around!” she says. “Also, if you feel you want to stand more than the proposed ratio suggests or if standing makes your back ache, adjust the ratio as needed.” 

So, there we have it. While using a standing desk may not be the solution to all your WFH problems, it’s definitely a great way to ensure you’re moving regularly while working and negate the negative health effects of sitting down for long periods of time and boost your mood and energy levels.

Plus, you don’t even need to invest in an expensive set-up to get started. What’s not to love? 

If working from home during the pandemic is taking its toll on your mental health, you’re not alone. From the isolation of being separated from colleagues and the stress of relying on technology to the threat of redundancy and the anxiety of applying for a new job, there are a number of reasons why you might find this time particularly challenging.

So, what can you do about it? We’ve got a plan.

Our Work It Out campaign, supported by Mind, aims to give you the tools and resources you need to take care of your mental health while you’re stuck at home. From completing your Work 5 A Day to dealing with issues including anxiety, loneliness and stress, we’ll be exploring all aspects of WFH wellbeing.

For more information, including how to complete your Work 5 A Day, you can check out our guide to getting started.

Images: Getty

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