A standing desk or stand-up desk is a desk conceived for writing or reading while standing up or while sitting on a high stool. During the 18th and 19th centuries, standing desks were popular in the homes and offices of the rich.. Standing desks have regained some popularity due to purported health benefits, though such benefits have not yet been clearly established.
Notable users of standing desks include Leonardo da Vinci, U.S. founding father Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, author Virginia Woolf, songwriter Oscar Hammerstein II, author Ernest Hemingway, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Standing desks have been made in many styles and variations. Standing desks may be specialized to suit particular tasks, such as certain variations of the telephone desk and desks for architectural drafting. Some standing desks may only be used while standing while others allow users to sit or stand by adjusting the desk height with an electric motor, hand crank, or counterbalance system. Some desks are also constructed like teacher's lecterns, allowing them to be set on top of an existing desk for standing, or removed for sitting.
While height of most seated desks is standardized, standing desks are made in many different heights ranging from 28 to 50 inches (71 to 127 cm). Ideally the height of a standing desk fits the height of its individual user. With seated desks, adjusting the height relative to the user can be accomplished by adjusting the height of the user's chair. However, because users of a standing desk move around more than when seated, using a pedestal to adjust the user's height is not practical.
To solve this issue, a standing desk may either be custom-made, to suit the height of the user, or made with adjustable parts. For writing or drafting, the angle or slant of the surface may be adjustable, with a typical drawing table or table à la tronchin. If the desk is made for computer use, the legs may be adjustable. Another option is a platform made to sit on top of a regular seated desk that raises the desk's surface to a useful height for standing. Such platforms may be fixed height or adjustable.
A height-adjustable desk or sit-stand desk can be adjusted to both sitting and standing positions; this is purported to be healthier than the sit-only desk. Sitting for extended periods of time has been linked to detrimental health effects. Other options for sit-stand desks include smaller, desk-top models that can be placed on, or removed from an existing desk to switch between sitting and standing.
Some antique standing desks have an open frame with drawers, and a foot rail (similar to those seen at a bar) to reduce back pain. A hinged desktop could be lifted in order to access a small cabinet underneath it so that the user could store or retrieve papers and writing implements without needing to bend over or stand back from the desk.
Purported health benefits and risks
The health benefits and risks of using a standing desk versus a seated desk are disputed. Research has linked health risks with both sitting and standing for prolonged periods. While many studies have examined the risks of prolonged sitting due to a sedentary lifestyle or prolonged standing due to working conditions, these studies do not directly answer whether or not using a standing desk provides more health benefits than risks, because they do not distinguish work or recreation at a standing desk from blue-collar work or sports. As of 2016, no high-quality, large, long-term, randomized study exists to determine whether sit-stand desks are effective at improving health. According to a 2015 review, there is "very low quality evidence that sit-stand desks can reduce sitting at work"; it is currently unknown whether such a reduction, if it does indeed exist, would result in improved health.
The health effects of sitting versus standing may include:
- Burning calories
- A 2013 study showed that using a standing desk caused the heart to beat an average of ten beats faster per minute than when sitting. This equates to an additional fifty calories an hour burnt. A 2012 study comparing young adults using sitting and standing desks found that standing desk users burned 20.4 additional calories per hour. Given an average of three hours of standing per day, five days per week, this would equate to burning an extra 306 to 750 calories per week.
- Varicose veins
- A 2005 Danish study following nearly 10,000 working adults over 12 years found that those who did the most sitting on the job were 44% less likely to receive hospital treatment for varicose veins. Those who were more likely to develop varicose veins responded to the study that their work "seldom" or "never" entailed sitting, whereas the "sitters" jobs required sitting at least one fourth of the time. A smaller, three-year Danish study also found higher risk for varicose veins in standing occupations, with the risk for women at 163% greater than the sitting group.
- Metabolic risk
- A 2008 study concluded that prolonged and uninterrupted periods of sedentary (primarily sitting) time is associated with greater metabolic risk, which is associated with diabetes and heart disease. According to a study done by the Mayo Clinic, for people who sit most of the day, their risk of heart attack is about the same as smoking. Prolonged stationary periods have been linked with problems of blood glucose control and reduced production of the enzyme lipoprotein lipase, both of which contribute to an increased risk of heart disease.
- Pregnancy & birthweight
- A 1995 study of pregnant women found that prolonged standing at work affects birthweight. Babies born to women who stood more than five hours per workday had lower birthweight than babies of those who stood two hours per workday or less. Babies born to women who both stood and walked more than five hours per workday had significantly lower birthweight than the babies of those who stood and walked two hours per workday or less. However, women who reported walking (not standing) more than two, but no more than five hours per workday had children with higher birthweight.
- A 2009 study of over 17,000 Canadians concluded that physicians should discourage extended periods of sitting. Comparing the daily sitting time of subjects, using the categories "almost none", "¼ of the time", "½ of the time", "¾ of the time", "almost all", it found that the more sitting, the higher risk of mortality from all causes. Another study in the US concluded that sitting less than three hours per day may increase life expectancy at birth by approximately two years. A 2010 study found that time spent sitting was independently associated with total mortality, regardless of physical activity level. On the other hand, a 2010 study examining 43 papers related to occupational sitting found "limited evidence" supporting increased health risks or mortality risk due to occupational sitting, with five papers concluding the opposite.
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