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Sit Down: 4 Reasons Standing Desks Are Bad For You


March 28, 2018 | Jessica Ogilvie

For a couple years now, standing desks have smugly enjoyed their upright, knees-locked position at the top of the workspace hierarchy. They were touted as decreasing your risk for obesity, improving your posture, and even possibly keeping cancer at bay.

But a recent study suggests that those benefits might amount to little more than commercial hype. According to a recent study published in the journal Ergonomics, working at a computer while standing at a desk for as little as two hours at a time can cause increased discomfort in every area of the body and decrease your attention reaction time. The Telegraph, which originally reported on the study, notes that researchers discovered that standing desks “’significantly’ increased [discomfort] for the lower back and lower limb regions, which correlates with previous research suggesting standing desk is responsible for swelling of the veins, which can endanger the heart.”

Researchers did find one benefit, which was that creative decision-making among desk-standers improved. It’s also worth pointing out that the study only had 20 participants, but according to The Washington Post, it echoes findings published last year in the American Journal of Epidemiology, which discovered that “people who often stood at work were nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease as opposed to those that sat more often.”

So. What’s a well-intentioned desk-stander to do? Of course, we know that sitting for hours at a time isn’t great for you. But if standing might not be so hot either, where does that land you?

Well, we’ve done a little poking around, and found that there are ways to take a break from both standing and sitting that will get your blood flowing, get your heart rate going, and not directly cause either cancer or obesity (as far as we know). Here they are:

Walk Literally Anywhere

When we think about the old advice to take a break from work and “go for a walk,” a lot of us imagine changing into sneakers, going outside into the sunshine, and walking around outdoors for 15 to 30 minutes.

In other words, the kind of break that literally no one takes.

Instead, we encourage you to remember that any time you get up and walk anywhere, you’re accomplishing the same thing (minus the Vitamin D, but let’s take what we can get, shall we?). So walk to the kitchen and get some water. Walk to the bathroom and admire your make-up or your hair or your facial hair. Walk to your friend’s desk and bother her while she’s trying to finish something. It all counts!

Eye Breaks and Micro-Breaks

Yeah, these were news to us too. The website Spine Universe suggests that you can cut down your break time to literally just moving your eyeballs, if that’s all you got. They suggest looking away from your screen every 15 minutes or so to focus on something further away and let your eye muscles relax. Try to blink during that time, too. (The implication that we have to be told to blink is terrifying, but possibly merits its own post someday.)

Micro-breaks, the website says, are “less than two minutes long and perfect to do between bouts of typing.” You can get up from your desk or not, but the idea is to stop typing and let your fingers and hands rest or stretch. In such a short period of time, you don’t even have to stop thinking about work or lose your train of thought. You might just prevent giving yourself carpal tunnel syndrome, and that’s a win.

Move to a Different Spot and Chill

So you want a little more than an eye break, but a little less than a walk? Okay, friend — just go to a different location, sit there, and chill out. Let your mind wander, look at what’s around you, look at your fingernails. The idea here is to let your brain relax and think about something other than whatever you’ve been thinking about for the past hour.

If you’re really lucky and in a position to do so, maybe even grab a couple minutes of shut-eye. Transparent creator Jill Soloway has a queen-sized bed in her office, reportedly for this very reason; creative ideas emerge when you least expect them to, and when you’re least searching for them. Like: how can I get a queen-sized bed into my workspace?

Do These Things Even If You Don’t Want To

It’s tempting to go for hours straight without taking a break when you’re on a roll. But since these physical concerns with either sitting or standing start to take hold after just a couple of hours, it’s crucial to make yourself get up and do something else even if you don’t feel like it. None of these breaks have to be long — 10 to 15 minutes should do the trick, less if you are really pressed for time — but no email is worth damaging your physical or mental health for. EVEN ONES WITH URGENT SUBJECT LINES!!

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