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Standing desks: How do you make the most of this moderately helpful technology?

Harriet Green
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Hendon Police College
There’s no point lowering your risk of heart disease and diabetes if you have square eyes and rickets (Source: Getty)

Standing desks were all the rage about two-and-a-half years ago. Transforming your working day, it was even suggested they could help you lose weight. Unfortunately, this is simply not true.

A recent study published in the (rather apt) Journal of Physical Activity and Health examined how many calories people burnt when sitting at a computer and while standing. Sitting subjects burnt 80 calories an hour; those standing burnt 88. Beyond marginal gains, the material difference came from those using not standing desks, but treadmill desks. They burnt an average of 210 calories an hour.

Plainly, most people don’t get a standing desk instead of gym membership. But if you are jumping on the bandwagon, it might be worth considering whether you’re a) going to get the most out of your desk and b) whether getting one won’t inadvertently send your health binge in reverse.

Get a decent one

I recently took receipt of a good standing desk. A long-time sceptic ready to poo-poo colleagues’ recommendations, I decided I’d have to make an assessment myself. My contraption is from a firm called Sit Stand. With top reviews on Amazon for all products, it makes sturdy adjustable desks that can be assembled quite quickly by two people with average levels of common sense.

There’s no knob-twizzling – two levers on either side take the desk up and down easily. This makes all the difference. If your desk is difficult to adjust, you might spend too long sitting down, or standing up. Common wisdom dictates it’s better to do a bit of both – standing up for too long just means sore feet.

Clustering

If you’re in a normal office where most people are still sitting down, don’t under-estimate the vitriol your desk, and you as its user, might receive. “It’s a way for you to lord over me,” says one colleague, within minutes of me taking my first stand. While many colleagues are curious and want a go, the implied health puritanism can grate with others.

The same colleague quickly suggested a way forward. “Why don’t you go to that bit of the office? There’s more room there,” he said, waving a hand towards an empty corner. Further discussion elicited the grand plan: as others followed suit, we could all be moved, allowing us to range freely between heights while stationed in the same area – a system I’ve now termed “clustering”.

Doing a fad well

Of course, being cordoned off would also make you a more hardline stander – if only to make the point. But most of us are not naturally this way inclined. When I first got my desk, I tried to stand for hours, but ended up bending forward or spreading my legs across my squashy foot mat (you’ll need one of these). If you’re used to sitting for long periods of time, ease yourself in. I anticipated that a few hours standing each day would rid me of cellulite and too much bottom. Again, beware expectations.

There is also a danger that standing will actually make you less inclined to leave the office. If you’re standing, you’re still not moving. And you’re still gazing into your screen. I tried using it as a substitute for walking round the block and getting some fresh air, and it didn’t work.

If you really want to improve your desk-bound future, perhaps consider other bits of your body. Your eyes, for instance. It is an odd thing to do, but try looking away from your screen every now and again (experts say every 20 minutes). There’s no point lowering your risk of heart disease and diabetes if you have square eyes and rickets.

But standing desks are good things to have. They stop your back aching and make you think about your posture. They give you a different view of the office. They might even make you work faster.

In spite of myself, I love my standing desk.

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