How Long Should You Really Stand at a Standing Desk?

30 October 2018

How many hours do you think you spend sitting down every day? If you’re anything like the average American, you spend upwards of 10 hours a day with your butt in the chair. That number is the result of at least 8 hours at work – sitting at a computer, eating lunch, and sitting in meetings – followed by the hours we spend watching TV, browsing our smartphones, or using the computer at home at night.

Do you find that shocking?

If so, you’re not alone. Standing desks are becoming more and more popular in offices, with many companies springing to replace all employees’ desks with standing or sit-stand models. Suddenly, you have the option to stand during the workday. But how much standing is enough? Are you supposed to stand for the entire day? What percentage of your workday should you spend standing in order to be healthy?

Experts agree that you should not stand for the entire day. Standing for too long can be just as hard on your body as sitting for too long, it’s just correlated with different risk factors than sitting. For example, because standing compresses the spine and forces your heart to work against gravity, standing too much can lead to lower back pain and increase your risk for certain cardiovascular problems, such as varicose veins, carotid arteries, and vein thrombosis.

So what’s the right ratio of sitting to standing? Experts agree that you should work towards spending half of your day sitting and half of it standing, ideally switching between the two every 15-30 minutes. (Why 15-30 minutes? Because after just 30 minutes of sitting, your metabolism slows by as much as 90% and the muscles in your lower body turn off.) However, most people can’t go from sitting all day to suddenly standing for four hours every day. That’s okay – start slow and work your way up to the ideal four hours of standing.

If it’s hard for you at first to spend extended consecutive periods of time on your feet, start by standing up for certain activities. Taking calls is a good example. Instead of talking on the phone at your desk, get up and stand or walk around while you’re on the phone. You can also start eating lunch standing up. If your office kitchen has a counter, stand there rather than sitting down. It might only take you 20 minutes to eat, but that’s extra 20 minutes up and out of your seat.

Another great thing you can do is to start suggested to colleagues that you have walking meetings instead of seated meetings. That might be hard to do with a large meeting, but if it’s a small meeting of two or three people, you can easily take a walk around the building while you discuss your agenda – or even take the meeting outside if it’s a nice day.

You might feel awkward suggesting the walking meeting at first, but you will quickly notice that your walking meetings catch on and become popular around the office. Other people will start having walking meetings even when you don’t suggest them! That’s because walking breaks up the boredom and monotony of a typical meeting and also stimulates brain power, so people feel that the meetings are more productive.

So, to avoid the dangers of excessive sitting or standing, buy yourself a quality height-adjustable sit-stand desk and start working your way up to standing for half of your workday! You’ll start feeling the benefits of spending more time out of your seat right away.