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workers at standing desks

A standing ovation for standing desks

‘My standing desk is like a coffee shop for me,’ says Dr Lan Gao, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of Health and Social Development at Deakin University. ‘If I’m feeling sleepy I prefer to stand. It stops me from having too much coffee each day!’

Dr Gao may not realise it but she’s part of a club that counts as its members Winston Churchill, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway and… Dwight Schrute of The Office (US). What do all these luminaries have in common? Standing desks.

Walter Murch, film editor extraordinaire and self-confessed ‘proselytiser for standing’, speaks enthusiastically of its benefits: ‘Your kinaesthetic posture, so to speak, is more responsive to the flow of time when you’re standing.’

Heady stuff.

And now, in an Australian-first study, Deakin University has looked at the economic impact of standing desks in the workplace and has found that – when it comes to employee health, wellbeing and productivity – the only way is up.

Up on your feet, that is.

What’s so bad about sitting anyway?

Dr Gao, lead author of this study, says ‘excessive sitting is associated with serious health issues like obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases – such as heart attacks and strokes – and shorter life expectancy.’ She says it’s also been linked with some cancers.

How much is too much?

According to Dr Gao, the definition of ‘excessive sitting’ has traditionally been 11 hours per day. This includes all your time at your desk at work plus whatever time you spend sitting at home – in front of your TV, say, or at the dinner table or on your iPad.

But before you pat yourself on the back for scraping in under the line, Dr Gao says that these days there’s a trend to reduce the definition of ‘excessive’ to seven or eight hours per day. Ahem.

Excuse us while we get up and sheepishly stretch our legs…

'If I’m feeling sleepy I prefer to stand. It stops me from having too much coffee each day!'

Dr Lan Gao,
School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University

But exercise can make better, right?


Let’s be clear, physical activity is good for your general health and wellbeing but, according to Dr Gao, it does not offset the negative impact of excessive sitting.

‘If I sit for eight hours at work,’ she says, ‘the negative impact of this will still influence my health, even if I workout at the gym for two hours each night.’

The solution: get vertical.

Are standing desks for everyone?

Dr Gao says that, if you’re healthy, there’s no reason to avoid a standing desk. But if you have a particular condition or illness it’s a good idea to consult your doctor first and follow their advice.

In fact it was Dr Gao’s GP who recommended she use a standing desk to help manage a back issue. And she hasn’t looked back (ahem) since.

What about workplace culture? Can standing desks make a positive contribution?

When considering which job to take, workplace culture is increasingly becoming a deciding factor. And so it should. Good work culture is vital to career longevity.

Deakin’s study shows us that standing desks promote better health, which means less employee sick leave, which equals more productivity. But can standing also contribute to a more positive workplace culture?

Dr Gao believes that some of the strategies recommended to reduce sitting time can also effect this type of positive change. For example, instead of booking the boring ol’ conference room for yet another sit-down meeting, why not consider a walk-and-talk?

That’s right, the walk-and-talk meeting – popularised by The West Wing and lovingly parodied by all and sundry. Not only will it get you up and moving but also it will make you feel pretty darn cool. Win-win.

What should I look for in a standing desk?

Eight hours is a long time to stand, no matter how fit and healthy you are.

Dr Gao’s desk is electronic – ‘so I can change the position with the press of one button.’ She recommends a combination of sitting and standing throughout the day, depending on your personal preference. ‘When I’m reading I prefer to stand, but when I’m writing or doing intensive thinking I prefer to sit.’

‘A desk that can transition between the two postures may cost more,’ says Dr Gao. But ‘if your employer buys in bulk they can perhaps get a discounted price.’ For them, and for you, the investment is worthwhile.

The benefits of sitting less and standing more are significant for your health, wellbeing, productivity and the bottom line. Dr Gao recommends trying one. At the very least, it may stop you having that extra cup of coffee.

Did you know that, over a lifetime, we spend up to 80,000 hours at work? Learn more about the importance of workplace wellbeing.

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Dr Lan Gao
Dr Lan Gao

Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow, School of Health and Social Development, Faculty of Health, Deakin University

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