Five questions to ask before buying a standing or walking desk

Most Canadians believe that physical activity and sports promote healthy living, yet few practice it. According to ParticipACTION, Canada’s national voice of physical activity and sports participation, “Canadians work an average 36.6 hours per week and 60 percent spend their entire day seated.”

A study in the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise followed the lifestyles of more than 17,000 Canadians over 12 years. The results revealed those who sit most of the day were 54% more likely to die of a heart attack. Surprisingly, this was true even if people were non-smokers and regular exercisers. Other risks include back pain, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and more.

The benefits of standing and walking desks seem obvious where compared to the sedentary lifestyle. Standing desks have been around for a long time. Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Jefferson and Winston Churchill all worked at standing desks daily. Walking desks are a more recent phenomenon where a treadmill is situated below the standing desk.

Five question to ask before buying a standing or walking desk

1. Do they boost Productivity?

While the verdict is still out for walking desks, studies from using standing desks indicate they do boost productivity by up to 10% according to research from ReadWrite. According to Rob Schwartz, chief creative officer of ad agency TBWA\Chiat\Day LA, “When you’re sitting, you’re naturally recessive, you’re receiving; when you’re standing, you’re ready to do something.” (Source:Mashable).

Most people find a walking desk awkward in the first few days, while trying to do serious work. Tasks like email, reading, writing are all doable. Walking speeds range from .4 MPH to 4MPH, the latter being the pace of a light run. While it takes time to get used to, a walking speed of. 8 to 1.2 MPH usually works for a person being productive and getting things done on the job. Most people walk for an hour or two and then sit for a period of time.

Two popular retailers for the walking desks are from LifeSpan and The Human Solution. The model I bought from The Human Solution was the UPLIFT Solid Wood Treadmill Desk — Sit-Stand-Walk, which is here. A demo of a walking desk can be viewed here.

2. Do they burn Calories?

The benefit of walking is that you will burn even more calories than standing. In one case (CNET), a male walked at a speed of 2 miles per hour for 4 to 7 hours. He burned 500 to 1,000 calories, which is equivalent to 15,000 to 25,000 steps per day. One important observation by researchers that is a concern are people who intentionally increase their physical activity and then compensate by reducing other physical activities throughout the day. The result is that overall physical activity may not rise much.

3. Do they increase Focus and Concentration?
For outcome based tasks, one benefit that comes from a standing desk is a sense of urgency to remain focussed until something is complete. Walking desks are viewed differently. Some people who need to focus and concentrate on something important usually stop walking because they feel it may distract them from their goal. People will also get distracted from a task if the speed is increased. The higher the speed, the more they focus on keeping up with the adjusted speed.

4. Do they boost Energy Levels?
According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, technology companies like Google and Facebook are making standing and walking desks available to employees upon request. The consensus is that they keep energy levels up throughout the day. Greg Hoy, a Facebook recruiter, said, “I don’t get the 3 o’clock slump anymore, I feel active all day long.” Not surprisingly, companies that nurture healthy employees will have better attendance and higher productivity.

5. Do they boost Creativity?
Doing creative work is less clear for standing and walking desks. Creativity is often associated with day dreaming, which sometimes involves looking out the window in a relaxed state, often from one’s chair. As we might expect, research shows that taking walks significantly boosts creativity. According to a study published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology, creativity increased substantially when people took walks outdoors. Surprisingly, the results were similar for indoor walking with increased creativity. People were even able to generate more creative ideas when seated after taking a walk from indoors or outdoors.

Summary

According to Jon Paulsen, who is a certified ergonomist and CEO of The Human Solution, the important thing to remember whether or not a standing or sitting desk is used is to vary one’s routine. He suggests taking micro breaks every 30-minutes by walking around. Other tips involved setting up computer or mobile phone reminders to prompt you to step away from your desk. If you need to speak to a colleague down the hall, it is better to walk there instead of using a telephone or email. Standing or walking meetings instead of seated meeting are another great way to exercise.