Miami wealth manager Adam Carlin has a more invigorating afternoon routine than those of us who retreat to our cubicles after lunch and sink into our desk chairs. Carlin spends his afternoons on his feet at his standing desk: “I feel so much healthier.”
The emphasis on wellness outside of work has shifted inside, and desk dwellers are the new target. With research showing Americans sedentary lifestyle taking a toll on our health, a trend toward standing desks is gaining ground as the U.S. workforce continues to shift to office-based work. People who use standing desks say the benefits are fewer backaches, more energy and a boost in productivity, allowing them to leave work in better a mood and with more work completed.
To avoid foot pain, users are switching it up, opting for desks or workstations that allow them to adjust the height, either electronically or manually. Throughout the day, depending on the task, they find a comfortable balance between sitting, standing and moving.
Carlin bought his standing desk two years ago after noticing the trend had infiltrated New York’s financial offices. He initially saw a standing desk as a way to alleviate back pain, but he quickly discovered it also helped him avoid the afternoon slump. Returning from lunch, he raises his desk that holds a keyboard and two monitors and reads research or talks on the phone while standing. Carlin said it was an adjustment, at first, for his feet, but after a short while, he found that standing gives him a second wind: “It feels like it’s how I should be situated, not trapped at a desk, unable to move around.”
Once upright, most standers tend to move around their work spaces. Miami publicist Sissy DeMaria began using a standing desk two years ago. She still does tasks like writing notes or signing checks while sitting down, but she tackles other responsibilities like writing press releases or reviewing proposals while standing up. She stands most of the day and notices that she moves easily around the office and interacts more with her employees: “When you’re sitting, it’s an effort to get up out of your chair. When you are standing, it’s easy to go over to the printer or to someone’s office to ask them a question.”
The research in favor of standing desks is rising with their popularity. Experts have found the effect of sitting all day for years is associated with a range of health problems, from obesity to diabetes to cancer. One study published in the British Medical Journal found that spending less time sitting could help people live longer by preventing their DNA from aging. Another published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute contends that spending less time sitting could reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. Experts quoted in the British Journal of Sports Medicine said Americans should stand, move and take breaks for at least two out of eight hours at work.
The shift to standing desks started in home offices but has spread to varied workplaces. Employers such as Google and Intel offer standing desks as part of an employee-wellness program to those workers who request them. Priority Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has given all of its 1,200 employees sit-to-stand desks. And in June, Westin launched a pilot program to offer treadmill desks to business travelers in guest rooms at its Chicago hotel.
It is difficult to quantify how large the standing desk/treadmill desk sector is, but it is growing at an impressive rate, both in terms of buyers and suppliers, according to Ron Weiner, CEO of iMovR, a manufacturer of adjustable-height standing desks, sit-stand meeting tables and treadmill desks. Weiner, who also hosts the website workwhilewalking.com has a full showroom in Bellevue, Washington. “We see new vendors and new products popping up almost daily in this category,” Weiner says.
At a recent office furniture trade show, Weiner says the number of desk manufacturers that were introducing new height-adjustable versions of their office desk furniture caught attendees’ attention. “There were literally dozens of desk manufacturers and component vendors unveiling new sit-to-stand desks in every shape, color, material and size imaginable,” he says. Adjustable-height or standing desks range from about $400 to $1,000. Some companies offer conversion kits that turn a regular desk into a sit-stand desk for a price tag of around $300.
Jeanne Becker, senior vice president at Miami’s Wragg & Casas, spent months researching options before purchasing a standing desk last month. Meanwhile, she rigged her computer atop a pile of magazines to test the concept and noticed an improvement in her lower back. “It’s been a relief to stand for a while,” she says.
Of course, buying the desk is just the first step toward better health. There are people who buy a traditional sit-stand desk and don’t move it out of the sitting position after the novelty wears off, according to industry research. Now, Weiner sees innovation around the next phase: cloud-based technology that measures the time workers spent sitting or standing at their adjustable desks, prods them to stand more often, and finds user patterns. “When you have the ability for companies to tell whether this is a good investment, that’s the inflection point,” Weiner says. Already, Stir, a California manufacturer, has created a kinetic desk that tracks when you are sitting or standing and can be programmed to nudge users to stand up and move more.
For office dwellers who want more movement, treadmill desks are catching on, too. Sharlyn Lauby, owner of a South Florida management training and HR consulting firm, says that when she would get busy with work, the first thing that would go by the wayside were her trips to the gym. She bought a treadmill desk to fit exercise into her work-life balance. Now, she starts her workday with 45 minutes at her treadmill desk doing simple activities such as reading news stories, checking social media, conducting online research, and listening to webinars or podcasts. “I won’t say it’s a replacement for a desk, but it definitely is an opportunity to move more activity into my day,” she says.
Lauby recently joined a LinkedIn group for treadmill desk users. The group’s 170 members are standing or walking while working as architects, real-estate appraisers, marketing consultants, software developers, corporate trainers and high school teachers. Discussion centers on everything from the best shoes to wear or floor mat to use to where to go to try out new models. Lauby, who wrote about her new treadmill desk on her HR Bartender blog, says they may not be for everyone, but she has gotten her return on investment: “We’re all busy, so for anyone who wants more activity in their day, these desks are a great way to get it.”
Cindy Krischer Goodman writes weekly on work life issues. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her @balancegal or visit worklifebalancingact.com.