The Surprising Truth Behind Standing At Work & How To Keep Yourself Fit At A Desk

September 7, 2022

When your lower back starts to flare up, there seems to be nothing that you can do to make it better, and everything seems to make the pain worse. No matter if you’re sitting, standing, or even lying down, it constantly aches. I recently experienced a bad week of lower back pain after a particularly busy time at work. During this time, I found myself glued to my chair for hours, and then one morning, I woke up and could barely get myself out of bed. So after hearing so many people talk about standing desks, I purchased a laptop stand to get myself to stand up. You can imagine how shocked I was when my lower back pain didn’t improve and I developed knee pain.

Although standing at your desk can be better than sitting, it can be just as bad for your body. When you’re standing for hours on end, there is extra weight pushing down on your joints. If you don’t have the correct posture or stand in a certain position for too long, this can actually damage your joints. The pressure of standing can start to wear down on the cartilage in your joints, particularly in your knees. Standing for long periods of time can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease as your heart has to work a lot harder to pump blood up from your feet.

This isn’t to say that sitting is better for you. Sitting down can lead to blood pumping too slowly, leading to higher cholesterol. The pancreas has also been shown to increase insulin levels when sedentary, leading to diabetes. Those of us who sit for a long time can also experience lower energy levels, digestion issues, and of course, back and hip issues. So what can we do? If we shouldn’t sit, but standing isn’t much better, are we just doomed to experience joint pain? Of course not, and the solution is a lot simpler than it seems. To avoid joint and cardiovascular research suggests we turn to regular movement. Here are five ways to keep yourself active at a desk job, no matter where you are:

1. The 20:8:2 Rule

The 20:8:2 rule was coined by Dr. Alan Hedge, an ergonomics professor at Cornell University who has found that sitting for 20 minutes, standing for 8, and then walking around for 2 minutes keeps your body active and in good, focused posture in each position. Dr. Hedge found that “after about 30 minutes of standing, you start to assume an awkward posture that increases the risk of musculoskeletal problems.”

Setting up a timer or utilizing chrome extensions with built-in timers are great ways to keep yourself on track!

2. Treadmill desks or steppers

I swear we have more options for office furniture than any other room, but it makes sense with how much time we spend at our desks. If you’ve already invested in a standing desk or standing tabletop converter, then to keep your joints mobile, ask your boss for a portable treadmill! (You can show them this study that shows a 60% increase in creative output in workers who regularly walk.)
For a more budget-friendly option, try an under-the-desk stepping machine which you can use at a standing or conventional desk!

3. Walking meetings

Have a lot of standing meetings each week? Depending on the meeting, ask your coworkers if they’d be okay having a walking meeting! Either in person and take a walk together or if you have Zoom or Skype calls that don’t require presentations, switch to audio and take it outside! Remind them of that nifty statistic about productivity, and you’ll have formed your own corporate walking club before you know it.

4. Medicine balls

Medicine balls or balance boards are great ways to keep your body engaged while sitting or standing. These throw out body just slightly off-balance, which engages our core muscles, protecting our joints. Part of the problem with sitting or standing for long periods is that we don’t correctly engage our muscles and instead dump our weight onto our joints. Medicine balls are a great way to prevent this (and work on those abs of steel!).

5. Practicing Good Posture

Finally, we have just practicing good posture. This is something that we can do sitting at our desks, driving, or even when taking a stroll! Finding out what good posture looks like in your body and reminding yourself throughout the day to realign is a great way to encourage healthy and pain-free joints. There are a few tools that can help; posture detectors that you stick on your back and buzz to remind you to realign when it senses bad posture, posture braces that you can wear under or over your clothes that help train your muscles to stay in a better posture, or even just utilizing those timers to realign yourself until it becomes second nature.

All in all, the most important thing to keep in mind is to keep your body mobile. Whether you are sitting or standing, introducing periodic movements, whether that is a quick lap around the office or even a few stretches, will keep your joints from becoming stiff, inflamed, and painful. It can be hard when your working day gets so busy but introducing mindful habits and a system for reminders will have you feeling good as new in no time!


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Photo: Harmoni Desk on Unsplash

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Iga is a freelance writer based in Colorado, but originally from Poland. She follows the vegan, sustainability and zero-waste movements while trying to live a practical lifestyle! When she’s not writing she likes to practice yoga, read, play with her dogs and just be outside in nature. You can find more of her work at her website


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