Is Your Chair Your Enemy?

A few years ago, I bought a height adjustable work table so we could experiment with standing work postures versus sitting working postures. A few people tried the stand up table, but it took awhile for anyone to really stick with daily use.

In the last year that all changed. Justin was the first Atom to step up to consistent stand up work, and today we have many height-adjustable tables scattered throughout our workplaces in Grand Rapids and Detroit. On any given day, 10-15 Atoms are standing up while they work. So far, we’ve sourced our tables from GeekDesk, Steelcase, and Herman Miller. As Atomic’s in-house workplace designer, I predict we will swap out many of our “sit down only” tables for height adjustable tables in the future.

Steelcase: Movement in the Workplace

Why Sitting Is an Important Part of the Day:
Reduces standing fatigue.
‡Transfers upper body load to the chair.
‡Stabilizes the upper body, making it the most-effective posture for keyboarding, mouse use, and viewing a computer display.

The Value of Standing:
Increases blood flow and reduces the likelihood of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).
Burns calories.
Offers a break from sitting, reducing the static load.
Refreshes and re-energizes.
‡Offers biomechanical benefits, including improvement of metabolic function after eating.

Cornell University’s Egonomics Lab: Sitting and Standing at Work

The Perils of Sitting
Sitting for more than 1 hour has been shown to induce biochemical changes in lipase activity (an enzyme involved in fat metabolism) and in glucose metabolism that leads to the deposit of fats in adipose tissue rather than these being metabolized by muscle, and extensive sitting also relates to heart disease risks, so people are advocating standing to work because this use more muscle activity (burns about 20% more calories).

The Perils of Standing
But, standing to work has long known to be problematic, it is more tiring, it dramatically increases the risks of carotid atherosclerosis (ninefold) because of the additional load on the circulatory system, and it also increases the risks of varicose veins, so standing all day is unhealthy. The performance of many fine motor skills also is less good when people stand rather than sit.

Herman Miller: What the Body Wants: The Importance of the Full Range of Movement

The human body was built to move, and for the first six million years, humans either did just that (quickly and often) or didn’t survive. Even 150 years ago when society was agrarian, people spent their days moving from one chore to the next. Activity wasn’t built into life; it was life. Then came the Industrial Revolution and technology and high technology.

I also found a pretty down-to-earth summary of the health benefits of stand up work (for all of us, not just men) in The Art of Manliness’s post: Become a Stand-Up Guy: The History, Benefits, and Use of Standing Desks.

Bottom line: Movement variety is essential. Stand often, sit briefly, and move around.


  • Thomas says:

    That infographic does a fantastic job at awful science. “Obese people sit for 2.5 hours more than thin people, THEREFORE sitting makes you fat.” Or, you know, obese people sit down more often because they quickly get tired of standing? Or watching more TV causes more sitting, as well as more consumption of Coke and therefore higher obesity? Correlation does not imply causation.

    I’m a convert myself and quite happy with my standing desk, but please use proper arguments to advocate it rather than this mumbo-jumbo.

  • Michael Harrington says:

    Yeah, I gotta say, my enthusiasm for the topic and my hopes of finding good propaganda to convert others to the Standing Way were somewhat dampened by the disingenuous infographic.

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