Office workers stand up for new breed of desks
Dayna Smith / Washington Post
Two-thirds of the employees at Opower, an energy efficiency company in Arlington, Va., use standing desks.
Washington Post / Dayna Smith
In addition to standing desks, Opower offers employees like Julie O’Brien, who’s in her 39th week of pregnancy, two treadmill workstations.
But two years ago, in his cramped corner cubicle at the University of Maryland, the bearded and bespectacled Eichinger took a stand.
Then he placed a pair of $8 Ikea end tables on top of his desk, elevated his computer monitor and went back to work.
“As people came in here, they'd notice and say, ‘Hey, you're standing up,'” Eichinger said.
Eichinger said his headaches were gone, his back pain had vanished, his energy level was through the roof.
Gradually more employees followed his lead and today, 11 people, or 25 percent of the center's staff, have made the switch.
The story is being repeated at offices across the country said Jason McCann, president of Gemmy Industries, a Texas-based corporation that introduced its Varidesk in 2012.
Sales for the wide platform unit that rests on top of any desk and easily glides up to a raised position have been in the “tens of thousands,” according to McCann.
Not all employers allow standing, and some require a doctor's note for an employee to have permission.
Even at offices that are open to the shift, employees are often expected to foot the bill for their standing solution.
So the revolution is most apparent in places where employers have bought into the idea and are buying the standing desks too.
“The best thing about a standing desk is that light moving around displaces sitting time,” said Loretta DiPietro, chairman of the department of exercise science at George Washington University.
DiPietro, whose latest study showed that subjects who take a few short strolls throughout the day control their blood sugar better than those who take one longer, sustained walk.
Her strongest evidence for the benefits of standing desks, however, comes from her personal experiment: No more shooting pains in her legs and she's lost weight.
Several GWU classrooms also feature an elevated table for standing during lectures.
DiPietro compares the standing movement to another public health campaign: “When I was growing up, no one wore a seat belt ever. Now, most people wouldn't think about starting a car without one.”
Standing desk guidelines
Sit down: You'll probably want to be able to sit some of the time. So if your desk isn't adjustable, a bar stool or tall chair is a handy addition. Many standing desk users also swear by their cushioned anti-fatigue mats.
Ergonomics: An adjustable desk makes it easier to find the sweet spot that won't cause arm or neck strain.If you find yourself sticking a hip out, resting on your elbows or locking your knees, that's a reminder to get back into a better position.
Dangers: Some studies have shown that excess standing can cause varicose veins or other problems. DiPietro's response is that there are so many other opportunities for sitting built into our daily lives that it's virtually impossible for the average desk worker to stand too much on the job.
Listen to your body's cues and not overdo it. Many standing desk devotees say they gradually built more standing time into their schedules.Sturdiness of your setup is crucial. A poorly constructed desk could topple over.
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