Why are Standing Desks Good for You?


Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Thomas Jefferson and Virginia Woolf wrote while standing up. Since everything old is new again, it seems it’s not so strange after all, but a much healthier way to work. But is working in a giant rodent toy really the answer?

The new, healthy workstyle trend in standing, rather than sitting, at your desk has unleashed some rather creative designs for the office – from standing desks and adjustable workstations to the somewhat bizarre, such as a human hamster wheel. The aforementioned luminaries might well turn in their graves at the thought, but you actually stand inside a large wooden wheel, and walk while working.

For those who feel a little nervous about straying from their desks, this wheel allows you to do many things at once. You can exercise, talk on the phone, use the computer or write. You could even drink water or eat a sandwich… or nibble on some cheese. What’s more, you can build your own Hamster Wheel Upstanding Desk if so inclined.

The wheel was designed in a Pier 9 Artists in Residence (AIR) program in San Francisco that gives artists, makers, and fabricators a chance to work in its digital fabrication workshops at Autodesk. The artists explore, create, and document cutting-edge projects, and share them with the DIY community.

Project collaborators, Pier 9 Artist-in-Residence Robb Godshaw and Instructables Developer Will Doenlen, say the wheel was designed using Autodesk Inventor over the course of a few hours.

“This allowed for a parametric design, where the diameter, width, and number of slats could be changed easily. We imported a human model from GrabCad to check clearances, and measured every door at Pier 9 to ensure it could leave the building,” the inventors say on their website.

(You can find the instructions and a video on the Indestructibles website: http://www.instructables.com/id/Hamster-Wheel-Standing-Desk/


We know we’re all members of the rat race but why would anyone want to act like a rodent in a hamster wheel, or stand up to work? Well, health professionals now say sitting has replaced smoking as the silent killer of our time. The National Heart Foundation in Australia, which has just launched a new campaign, is calling this an ‘inactivity epidemic’, much worse than in the 1980s when the government launched the  Life. Be In It campaign to target obesity.

The research is coming in that shows sitting for prolonged periods increases the risk of developing conditions such as cancer, heart disease and type-2 diabetes, and could even cause premature death. The advice is that adults should limit their daily sitting time and break up prolonged periods of sitting.

So, neither your wonderfully comfortable lounge chair at home, nor your ergonomic, chiropractor-designed, physiotherapy-inspired office chair are meant to be sat in for long stretches; certainly not for the usual 6.3 hours a day the average office worker spends sitting down – which is longer than some people spend sleeping. Mind you, you will still need an ergonomically sound set-up no matter what kind of sit-stand contraption you use.

What to do about it? The message from the health sector is stand up, sit less and move more, but stick to the old  adage ‘everything in moderation’ because standing all day could be just as bad as sitting all day, as it can cause varicose veins and blood pooling.


But don’t despair. If you don’t want to feel like a hamster in a wheel going nowhere, exercise does help, and if you add some variety to your day such as sitting for 30 minutes, then standing for 10 minutes, walking to the bathroom or water cooler, taking the stairs rather than the lift and taking short breaks. In other words, if you replace some of the sitting time with standing, walking or moving about and doing gardening or housework when at home rather than sitting watching television, the risk to your health and life is lessened.

Here are some tips:

Keep in mind that reducing your sitting time isn’t enough to keep you healthy unless you also add some moderate to vigorous activity which might include a brisk walk, dancing, running or cycling, a sport, or swimming.

Avoid prolonged static standing, ease yourself into this new regime and regularly change from sitting to standing while working by using adjustable sit-stand desks or work stations. You can also alter your position or take a light walk away from the desk. Start with short periods of time in either position so you can adapt to the new positions.  Also wear comfortable flat shoes or take them off. An anti-fatigue mat may help to mitigate sore feet.


It’s important to maintain the proper height, monitor level and distance from your eyes and wrist and arm positions to prevent work injury.  Table height, monitor level, monitor distance from eyes, wrist and arm positioning, and posture all have to be right to prevent physical discomfort and injury. The ergonomics are as important when standing as with sitting at a desk – the computer screen should be 50 to 100cm from the eyes; the centre of the screen should be roughly at eye level, elbows bent at a 90 to 110 degree angle and the screen tilted slightly backwards at 10 to 20 degrees. Look into the distance often to rest your eyes. The main thing is take a break.

If you feel like a pillock standing up to work, get the rest of the office to do the same. Have standing meetings, even walking meetings. Walk across the office to speak to a colleague rather than emailing them; take the stairs rather than the lift and involve others so standing becomes normal. Actually, climbing stairs is almost as intense an activity as cycling or jogging. 

None of this is new, it’s just been ignored until now. In the 1700s Italian physician Bernardino Ramazzini described the ill effects of too much sitting at work. His most important contribution to medicine was his book on occupational diseases. He advised people to break up sitting time and stimulate blood flow.

Health professionals know that alternating between sitting and standing increases muscular contractions, stimulates blood flow, and burns more calories, resulting in healthier blood sugar levels.


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