Life&Style’s Romana Essop discusses the new concept of a standing desk where you can choose to sit or stand whilst working to encourage an active lifestyle
For many of us a desk is perhaps an image which goes hand in hand with that of a chair, and thus, with the act of sitting down. How else would we fall asleep whilst doing our revision? But recent research into the ‘standing desk’ – a regular desk, only higher – could introduce school children, students and office workers alike to the standing option much sooner than we may think.
The biggest incentives which encouraged in-depth research and studies partially funded by the Department of Health, was the array of health benefits that increased standing time claimed to provide. The NHS has always promoted an active lifestyle, and perhaps due to Britain’s increasing concerns with obesity, in recent years they have gone so far as to advocate the need to simply ‘sit less’ in order to avoid higher risks of certain conditions and illnesses. ‘Excessive sitting’ has been found to increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes as well as some kinds of cancer, whilst it also slows our metabolism. This links prolonged desk work to all sorts of potentially damaging health problems; a concern which has in fact existed for decades after studies found London bus drivers to be more at risk of such issues.
The adjustable ‘sit-stand’ desk which allows users to switch between sitting and standing whilst working, claims to provide the solution for those of us who may spend hours sat down. Not only does it give us the option to stretch our legs and still be productive, but it potentially benefits our health too.
However, standing up alone may not be enough to significantly improve our lifestyles and positively impact our minds and bodies. The NHS admit that studies have shown some health improvements, but more regular physical activity is needed to counteract the apparent risks of excessive sitting. After all, standing up is still a stationary activity and can hardly be regarded as exercise. Therefore, as always, the NHS continue to promote an active lifestyle, which does not specifically recommend a sit-stand desk just yet.
Other claimed benefits of standing instead of sitting include increased engagement at work, more productivity and quicker calorie burning, although once again the impact is relatively small. With adjustable desks often costing well into triple figures each, it’s debatable as to whether the potentially unnoticeable effects are worth it, especially when a mere few minutes of extra exercise a day could achieve the same results.
Despite this, large companies like Apple and Google have already invested in sit-stand desks for their offices, seeming to believe in the benefits for both their employees and their business. Similarly, in Scandinavia, sit-stand desks are common in workplaces and Denmark even legally requires employers to offer the standing option to their office-workers.
Perhaps, since Apple and Google are often credited for their innovative and diverse office spaces, whilst Scandinavia are frequently considered one of the world’s most forward-thinking and progressive areas, it is time for sit-stand desks to be more widely considered and integrated in universities. Even purely for student comfort and widening study options, adjustable desks could be a sensible addition to campus spaces. Granted, standing students could be problematic in lecture theatres and seminar rooms where half of the room is still sat down with their views potentially disrupted by those who have neglected their chairs. However, places such as the UoB library which doesn’t currently offer sit-stand desks despite their otherwise extensive range of chair-desk combinations, could benefit students by providing this option. I for one, would love the chance to stretch my legs without giving myself the opportunity to become distracted by something away from my desk, and if it helps my health (even just a little) then that’s a bonus.