If Sitting Is the New Smoking- Are Standing Desks the New Electronic Cigarettes?

Standing Desk

Some of the greatest minds in history have sworn by stand up desks: including Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, Leonardo da Vinci, Kierkegaard, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf. Coincidence? I’m thinking not.


This thought-provoking excerpt is from The Economist :

WINSTON CHURCHILL knew it. Ernest Hemingway knew it. Leonardo da Vinci knew it. Every trendy office from Silicon Valley to Scandinavia now knows it too: there is virtue in working standing up. And not merely standing. The trendiest offices of all have treadmill desks, which encourage people to walk while working. It sounds like a fad. But it does have a basis in science.

Sloth is rampant in the rich world. A typical car-driving, television-watching cubicle slave would have to walk an extra 19km a day to match the physical-activity levels of the few remaining people who still live as hunter-gatherers. Though all organisms tend to conserve energy when possible, evidence is building up that doing it to the extent most Westerners do is bad for you—so bad that it can kill you.   (Stand up to read the rest here.)


The data is clear… sitting at your desk, in your car, in front of the TV for too long is an unhealthy way of living. But we DO need to make a living, and most people work long hours at desks or sitting in front of computers, before they go home to relax in front of the TV… right? Let’s explore what all of the sitting throughout a day can do to your health:

Sitting Is The New Smoking, shark jaws, dangers of sitting, gluteal amnesia, hamstring dominance

All of those knee, hip, neck & back issues? Quite possibly a result of a sedentary lifestyle…. not a “normal” part of the aging process. In fact, these maladies are about habit rather than age.

Former Cleveland Browns Linebacker Nick Speegle weighs in on the effects of too much sitting:

Virtually every major system in our body is adversely affected by constant sitting. Sitting leads to weight gain which leads to obesity, diabetes, cardiac disease and chronic fatigue. From a purely mechanical standpoint, sitting puts your body in an overall FLEXED POSTURE (hunched over, shoulders rolled forward, hips at 90 degrees, and head positioned in front of your chest). The spine was not designed to be in this position for long periods of time. The “flexed posture” that results from too much sitting lengthens muscles that are not supposed to be lengthened and shortens muscles that are not supposed to be shortened. Therefore, when we stand up, our body has to adapt to these new changes in muscle position and compensate for uneven distribution and compensatory movement patterns that lead to the breakdown of tissues. Or osteoporosis. Or compromised ability to fully oxygenate the body. That can’t be good… The list goes on but I think you get where this is headed.

couch potato, bad posture, too much sitting, dangers of sitting, sedentary lifestyle, hamstring dominance, big gutt, obesity, man sitting on couch

photo credit: Fox News

Without getting too technical, I will say that the body is designed for movement. Lack of spinal movement results in the drying out of disks, which creates degeneration – aka arthritis.  For that reason, Nick suggests the use of an exercise ball for those who are required to sit at a desk all day.  Sitting on an exercise ball allows the spine to continually move as well as force the tiny spinal stabilizing muscles to continually work. There is a lot of autonomic work happening to keep you from falling off the ball. That brain stimulation will only better your work, and your health. Now we are getting to the brain part…

Dr Troy Liming weighs in further on the topic:

The brain needs two things to thrive: fuel and activation. While nutrition is important, so is movement in order to activate your brain. Brain Activation is twofold: cognitive thought and movement.

Rx: Sit Less and Move More 

Fact: the very best way to stimulate the brain is through movement. There are millions of tiny receptors on every joint and muscle in our body that are in constant communication with our brain. These receptors are stimulated through movement. Which includes standing to work (the body does not just simply stand on it’s own, these millions of receptors work hard to keep the body standing, believe it or not)….Or sitting on a ball instead of a chair when at your desk.

Ideal Work Environment: Multi Postural…

Consider designing a multi postural work environment, in which you have options to stand and work at the computer or sit supported…. just mix it up.  I have done this. Best thing I ever did. I got rid of my sleek but “wrong” desk chair, bought a ball, moved the computer monitor to higher ground.  It took some time to get used to my new office setup but now I love it. The ball hides nicely under the desk. I think I have lost weight from less sitting. No joke.

NON-OPTIONS:   I have researched ergonomic chairs, and let’s face it, they are just NOT attractive, and I don’t think they even address this issue. (if you know of any good ones please leave a comment below and enlighten me) Ugly is a deal breaker for interior design and office chairs are expensive, attractive or not. There are a few ways to convert an existing desk to a standing desk, but, again, I can’t bear the thought of what they look like – eyesores. I do Interior Design for goodness sake, I can’t look at these options or in good conscience recommend them to anybody else. Truly awful.

Healthier Offices Are Trending,

Resources for Healthier Design:

Which brings me to a resource for beautiful custom standup desks, drafting tables, standup computer tables. They are gorgeous and the craftsmanship is unparalleled.

Standing Desks, stand up desk, standup desk, architectural desk, drafting table

This company will customize the dimensions and materials to your size and preferences. Above are three of the numerous styles which even include a deco style. Something for everybody.  The customizable height is key because you do not want your elbows and wrists to break the 90 degree angle. The site has a link to a measurement guide.

I also have a good standup work space resource for commercial settings.

Custom Standing Desk

They say the brain is more in use when the legs are activated – whether that means staying ON the stability ball or simply standing up. Replacing the chair with a ball also strengthens the core area. Bring it on- six-pack, creative brilliance, I’m all in. What do you think, are you inclined to stand up to a healthier lifestyle?

More Reading on this subject:

Do You Have “Blogger Butt” and How Can You Reverse It?

Against Chairs

Who Wrote at Standing Desks?

An entire BLOG dedicated to this subject!

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  1. Great post, I’ve been thinking about getting a stand up desk for a while. Thanks for the kick in the butt or kick off my butt. 🙂

  2. You’re on to something Courtney.
    Thanks for the positive motivations!!

  3. I wish that walking from my home office to the kitchen counted as exercise. Thanks for the great post and your earlier one on Blogger Butt. Lots of tips to put into action.

  4. GC Langston says

    Great post. I am not Winston Churchill but I have enjoyed my Knoll Reff adjustable standup kidney shaped desk since 1999! I believe Knoll has canceled the Reff line however they do offer a sleek adjustable standup desk that is very popular in work environments throughout the world.

    • Greg, I did read the paper last week and I would say that you definitely qualify to be on the VIP standing desk user list!! Congrats btw, and thanks for weighing in with another good desk source.

  5. GREAT post and you are so right Courtney. I do have a tall desk that I can sometimes stand up at, but doesn’t allow for the use of the exercise ball as a chair. I’ve seriously thought of getting a upright bicycle on a roller that I can spend part of the day cycling at my desk while working…and the truth is, I need to get out of my chair and make sure I walk each and every day, no excuses! Thanks for another great post

  6. Love it – although I don’t think I could make a treadmill desk work for me. My sketches might be jittery but it isn’t on purpose!

  7. Chris Olson says

    Great article. For some unbiased reviews on Stand-up desks and Walking Treadmill Desks you can probably save a lot of time and money. You will see we call it like it is and have reviewed the good, the bad, and the sometimes ugly products out there.

    here’s the link – http://www.WorkWhileWalking.com

  8. Courtney – This was such a great post, I have to pass it on! All great, including the title. You do such a terrific job – personal background (your desks as a child – I have an old secretary desk still in action and borrow the design concept for many client applications). You covered historic perspective, design and health. Damn, you’re good. I’m still working on the combination. Got rid of my bad desk chair, replaced with my exercise ball, shoulders down and try to work occasionally at my 42″H raised bar and take walk-about breaks. The cigarette and martini glass…I’m still working on. It’s like the bloody Ergonomic Olympics. Thanks, coach. (Loved Irene’s idea.)

  9. Thanks for sharing this informative post with us. I like your efforts towards awareness for standing desk. Good work, keep it up.


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