Is Your Business Killing You? The Controversy Over Sitting All Day

(Last Updated On: March 6, 2017)

Do you spend hours a day in front of your computer? Haven’t jumped on the bandwagon of a sit-stand desk or a treadmill desk yet?

I’m always tempted to buy the latest office gear, but I wanted to investigate first. Is sitting all day really as bad as the media makes it sound? And would a sit-stand desk or a treadmill desk be a good investment?

It turns out, there isn’t a right answer.

Here’s what the research says:

Yes, studies have shown that sitting for long periods of time, like most of us freelancers and web-based entrepreneurs do, has been linked to increased rates of Type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and early death. Yikes. Studies have found that even people who exercise regularly, but spend much of the day sitting are still at risk for these health problems. Double yikes.

Of course, there is still some controversy over these findings. For example, researchers in the U.K. studied 5,000 people over the course of 16 years. They found that sitting for long periods of time does NOT increase your risk of premature death.

Sit-Stand Desks

One trendy solution is a sit-stand desk, which allows the user to adjust the height of the desk and use it while sitting or standing. These convertible work stations have become popular in homes and offices where people work all day at the computer. But again, the research is inconclusive about whether standing is any better than sitting.

For example, researchers at Cornell University have found that people who use a standing desk often don’t adjust the monitor, keyboard and mouse properly, which can cause wrist pain and eventually lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. Standing all day is also linked to an increase in varicose veins, and a decrease in fine motor skills. In addition, the researchers at Cornell found that people rarely use standing desks for more than 15 minutes at a time, and after a month, the majority of people with a sit-stand desk usually sit all the time. If you’re going to sit all day anyway, why pay more for a desk that lets you stand?

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The one plus of a standing work station? You will definitely burn more calories. The number of calories you burn standing varies depending on many different factors. Different sources say that a person can burn between 7 and 50 more calories per hour when they stand than when they sit. Over time those calories can add up, but in the short term, I’m not sure it’s a big enough difference to motivate me to stand at my desk.

New research shows that sitting for long periods of time has lots of negative health outcomes. But are standing desks and treadmill desks the solution? Click through to find out what the research says.

Treadmill Desks

What about treadmill desks? Why not get some exercise in while you work? While there have not been many credible studies done on the effects of treadmill desks, current studies report mixed results. One study found that office workers who normally sat at a desk and switched to walking on a treadmill desk two hours a day improved their blood pressure and slept better. Another study found that people who were working while walking slowly at a treadmill desk made many more typing errors and did worse on tests of memory and concentration than people who were sitting. A treadmill desk could improve your blood pressure, but it might put a damper on your productivity.

What’s a freelancer to do?

There isn’t enough research to declare one office set-up better than another. You should just decide on your goals, and select the desk that best helps you meet those goals.

No matter what type of workstation you choose, there are some best practice that can help you stay healthy even if you sit all day for work.

First, practice good ergonomics. This checklist from the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration will help you learn about the healthiest way to set up your work space. This planner can help you calculate how high your desk, chair, and computer should be based on your height.

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Get up frequently. Any movement is better than no movement. Take frequent breaks to grab water or a snack. Stretch in your office or take the dog for a walk. If you need to, set a timer to remind yourself to get up and move.

Exercise regularly. While the evidence on the benefits of sit-stand desks and treadmill desks are in dispute, the benefits of regular exercise are not. Experts recommend that healthy adults get two and a half hours of moderate exercise a week, plus at least two days of strength-building activity. Even if you’re not hitting this target, exercise as often as you can. Every little bit helps.

As for me…

I’m keeping my cheap, sit down only desk. I splurged on an ergonomic chair and plan to upgrade my set-up by adding a second computer monitor and an ergonomic mouse and keyboard in the future.

Do you have a sit-stand desk, a treadmill desk, or some other unique office set up? What are the pros and cons?

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  • We have a virtual company and this is something we’ve all thought about; changing desk type. We may need to keep ourselves accountable for making sure we move around more or spending more on an ergonomic chair.

    Really well researched article. Really good read.

    • One thing that helps me stay accountable is spending money. I’ve found if I invest in something (say a treadmill desk or a great chair), then I feel compelled to use it because I don’t want to feel like I “wasted” my money. It’s so hard when you work from home to decide to invest in yourself and your office, but it’s important!

  • I have a traditional set-up for my home office, but work my core muscles with a balance ball chair.

    My kids like sitting in it, too, and you can bounce to get your legs stretched a bit.

    Now, if only there was a solution for desk neck…