We have been bombarded with terrifying news about the unhealthy physical effects of excessive sitting for years now. Heart disease, high blood pressure, an increased risk for diabetes, chronic pain and a high mortality rate have all been scientifically linked to our computer-centric workdays and Netflix-and-chill nightlife.
Recent studies have even found that too many hours spent passively sitting increases memory loss and decreases brain function. And just when it seemed like things couldn’t get any grimmer, it turns out that all the exercise in the world won’t counteract the effects of too much sitting.
Dr. James A. Levine of the Mayo Clinic even famously claimed that sitting is the new smoking.
Therefore, you finally broke down and bought a standing desk – one of those sit-stand desktop converters that allow you to shift between sitting and standing positions while you work. Just plunk your laptop down on top and you’re ready to stand your way towards ergonomic transcendence, right?
Not so fast.
The standing desk converter is indeed a potentially life-extending modern convenience when used regularly and correctly. That’s why we put together this helpful list of suggestions to maximize your standing desk experience.
1. Perfect Your Posture
It all starts with your posture.
Maintaining good posture and proper ergonomic alignment with your workspace helps prevent back pain, ensures healthy blood flow and fights fatigue while standing.
Start by standing up straight with your shoulders square and your legs roughly shoulder-width apart. The seam of your shirt sleeve should line up with the seam of your pants.
Of course, we all have different body shapes and sizes and comfort levels. The important thing is to find a comfortable position that you can maintain for an extended period.
Put your weight in the center of your feet, not on your toes or heels, but be sure not to become a statue. Don’t hold any one position for too long and shift your weight around throughout the day.
Most important, resist the urge to slouch over or lean on your standing desk. This is not only bad for your posture, but depending on the brand, it could cause the desk to tip over.
Many of the so-called “leading brands” in the standing desk market are created from lightweight materials with flimsy spring mechanisms. Their advertising campaigns are expensive, but their parts are cheap, and therefore their desks are much wobblier than they appear on TV. Do research to find a high quality standing desk.
2) Achieve Total Ergonomic Alignment
You nailed down your posture, but proper workplace ergonomics should take the entire body into account.
Let’s start with your eyes and neck. One of the most common mistakes made by rookie sit-stand desktop users, especially those who are working on a laptop, is that they set their screen far too low.
Even if you maintain a perfect posture, craning your neck to look down at your screen for several hours a day can cause neck and back pain as well as unnecessary eye strain and severe headaches.
The top of your screen should be set at least to eye level and tilted backward about 20 degrees. This allows you to keep your shoulders back, your neck straight and your eyes forward without interrupting your workflow or forcing you to turn your neck.
You should also think about the positions of your keyboard and mouse. Laptop-only users may want to consider using a wireless keyboard and mouse and moving their laptop to eye level, if their standing desk allows it, or mounting an additional monitor that sits at the proper ergonomic height.
The surface of the desk should be roughly level to your elbows so that you can lay your forearms flat on the desk with your elbows crooked at a 90-degree angle. Meanwhile, your wrists should rest at a 180-degree angle.
Your monitor should be set apart from you at a distance roughly equal to the size of the screen. In other words, if you have a 20-inch screen, set it about 20 inches away from your face.
3) Ease Into It
Rome was not built in a day, and neither will your tolerance for standing at your desk.
Many people who start using sit-stand desktops stop standing within the first month, and a major reason is that they try to stand too often too fast. They develop sore limbs or an aching back after dramatically increasing their daily standing time, and that discomfort causes them to abandon standing and resume unhealthy sitting habits.
The key is to start slowly and build up tolerance in your legs, back, neck, arms and core, then slowly increase the time you spend standing as your strength and endurance grows. You can track your progress with a fitness app or an interval timer on your smartphone.
4) Accessorize Wisely
A few inexpensive accessories can make the standing desk experience a better experience.
First things first, ditch the fancy footwear and put on some comfortable shoes while you stand. Next, add a layer of cushioning comfort by standing on top of a floor mat. Not only will a mat under your feet soften the impact of standing for extended periods of time, it will encourage subtle leg movements that work your muscles and improve the body’s blood flow.
A 2014 study by the National Institute of Health found that workers who stood for more than two hours reported less pain when using an anti-fatigue mat. Ergonomically designed anti-fatigue mats cushion your feet, legs and spine during long standing sessions.
As mentioned earlier, the ergonomic experience of laptop users can be greatly improved by adding accessories that allow the monitor to rest at eye level
Also, if chronic wrist and neck pain are an issue, try adding arm supports to your standing desk. These soft, padded surfaces attach to the edge of your desk, and they are very effective at fighting work-related musculoskeletal disorders of the neck and upper limbs, especially on your mouse hand.
Finally, a sit-stand desk becomes even more beneficial when paired with an ergonomic chair. Comfort, alignment and proper posture are just as important when we are sitting as when we are standing.
Even if you follow the doctor-recommended ratio between sitting and standing time (more on that below), you are still going to spend two-thirds of your work day sitting down. An ergonomic chair conforms to the shape and movements of your body, and they’re great for preventing back pain.
If the chair that you sit in at work doesn’t provide proper support, it undermines a lot of the good done by regular standing and moving. Ergonomic best practices regarding screen height and distance, good posture and proper arm and wrist support apply to sitting as well as standing positions.
You get the most out of a sit-stand desk not by standing all the time, but by striking the right balance between sitting and standing. Speaking of which…
5) Don’t Just Stand There
For all of the mounting evidence that excessive sitting could be the silent killer of the information age, other studies have shown that too much continuous standing isn’t that great for us either.
Contrary to the gung-ho belief that more standing makes you healthier, the best way to reap the maximum ergonomic benefit of your sit-stand desk is to strike the right balance between sitting and standing. Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University, recommends a ratio of 20:8:2.
In other words, to achieve the ideal balance between sitting and standing at work, he recommends 20 minutes of sitting followed by 8 minutes of standing, wrapped up by 2 minutes of standing and moving. Repeat this ratio throughout the day to achieve the maximum ergonomic benefits of your standing desk.
Of course, it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in your work and forget about the needs of your body, so download a fitness app or an interval timer to keep yourself on that 20:8:2 schedule.
6) Separate Sitting and Standing Tasks
One strategy that could boost your productivity at work while still boosting your physical and mental health is to separate your standing tasks from your sitting tasks.
Sit-stand desk converter users have frequently reported that creative thinking flows better while standing, but more focused tasks like writing and editing or tasks that require motor skills are better suited for the sitting position.
Another recent study tied sedentary behavior to decreased brain functions in middle-aged and older adults. The researchers in that study distinguished between mentally active sitting (writing or doing a crossword puzzle) and mentally inactive sitting (watching television or scrolling Facebook), and they found that the mentally active type of tasks reduced the more harmful effects of excessive sitting.
Therefore, the most efficient way to budget your day while still using your standing desk would be to save your tougher and more cerebral tasks for when you’re sitting, then standing up for scanning e-mail and brainstorming sessions.
7) Move Around More
Sitting is not increasing the mortality rate of the modern worker, and neither is standing – the healthy human body needs some of both. The real threat to our lifespans is a lack of regular movement.
Whether you are sitting or standing, try to work in some motion into your routine. Vary your position, shift your weight, don’t sit or stand too still and take regular work breaks.
As mentioned above, a 20:8:2 ratio – 20 minutes of sitting, 8 minutes standing, 2 minutes standing and moving – is considered the healthiest balance. “Standing and moving” doesn’t mean that you need to practice your Jazzercise routine in front of the entire office. It can mean something as simple as walking up and down a couple flights of stairs.
The key is to keep moving throughout the day, rather than stay in any one position. If you are using a standing desk, it is recommended that you stretch regularly and maybe do a deep knee bend or two during the day to ward off stiff muscles. Just try to do it somewhat subtly, without turning your office into the YMCA.
One way to stay in motion without attracting too much attention is to slowly twist your upper body from side to side while you stand. This will help increase blood flow throughout your body, which will keep your muscles loose and prevent your back from stiffening up.
If you follow these simple guidelines on how to use a standing desk, you will be working in a better ergonomic environment.