Stand Up Trends: Workstations & Treadmill Desks

By Joanne Pallotta

BIDMC Correspondent


If your job puts you in front of some kind of screen all day, no doubt, you spend a lot of time sitting.  From email to instant messaging, the technology designed to make our lives easier and more efficient is keeping us in, what some experts consider, an unhealthy position for an extended period of time.


Research shows that sitting for long periods of time could lead to a number of health risks including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome. “You could do everything else right – eat right, exercise daily, but if you’re sitting all day, then you’re still at a higher risk than someone who doesn’t sit all day,” says Kathy Shillue, physical therapist and the manager of Outpatient Rehabilitation Services at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.


So just how much sitting is bad?  Shillue says there really isn’t a well-established marker to answer that question.  So, her advice is simple:  get up and get moving.


The trend of standing up while working is catching on.  From workstations to treadmill desks, some people are ditching their chairs in an effort to stave off the negative effects of sitting.  Shillue is one of those people.  She put together a standup workstation of her own as an experiment. “I love it!” Shillue exclaims. “I don’t think I’ll sit down again!”


Benefits of Standing


From an energy-expenditure point of view, Shillue says you burn more calories standing than sitting.  Standing can also benefit someone with lower back pain, hip problems, or other kinds of joint issues.


Shillue finds that because she’s already standing up at her workstation, she’s more likely to think about walking. “When I was sitting before, I’d send an email rather than get up from my chair.”  Now, she says she will usually walk around the corner and answer somebody’s question in person.


Workstation Options


While there are a number of standup workstation options to buy, you can actually create your own for less money.  That’s what Shillue did, using shelving from a closet.  But she warns:  you’ve got to get the height ergonomically correct to avoid pain.  “You have to think about getting the screen and keyboard up high enough so that you’re not hunched over.”


Some of the drawbacks of the standing workstation might be leg fatigue or joint pain.  Shillue says you can counter those symptoms by wearing compression socks to help with your circulation, by rising up and down on your toes, or by shifting your weight back and forth periodically to get your muscles moving.  Having a tall stool or something similar to lean against can also alleviate the effects of fatigue or discomfort.



Treadmill Desks


Treadmill desks combine the best of both worlds:  allowing you to exercise and work at the same time.  “If your primary concern is burning more calories and obesity is your target, then the treadmill desk is going to get you there faster,” says Shillue.  “You’re certainly burning more calories than if you’re just standing.”


But she cautions about taking the leap from sitting to walking while working. This takes a bit of coordination and balance to accurately use a keyboard and mouse while slowly moving at the same time.   And, once again, you need to be sure your keyboard and screen are at the correct height.


Also, a treadmill workstation can be an expensive option.  The price of a treadmill desk can run into the thousands.  For less money, there are standing desks that fit right over a treadmill you might already own, but the cost is still there.


Not For Everyone


These types of workstations are not for everyone.  Shillue says if someone has arthritis or vascular problems in their legs, a standing desk is not recommended.  But, breaking up long periods of sitting is suggested.  “Take little baby steps each week and the good feeling you get by doing a little bit of exercise and sitting less will make you want to do more.”


While Shillue thinks standup workstations and treadmill desks are a bit of a trend, she says it is certainly getting people going in the right direction of integrating walking and exercise into their daily lifestyle.


Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.