545: Standing, Sitting, or Walking

Would you (or do you) work at a standing or treadmill desk?


Full episode script

Sitting all day could be killing you, screams the headlines. If you sit for more than a few hours a day, you could be risking a long list of medical problems, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and premature death.

Youch. That’s not good, especially for those that work all day sitting down, and then doubly so for those with hobbies that include even more sitting. It’s a properly scary proposition — so standing desks have become a lot more popular. But – as Alex Hutchinson put in Runner’s World:

On the circle of health hype, what was bad becomes good, then it becomes overrated, then it becomes bad again. That’s what happened to barefoot running and multivitamins, and it’s where the purported dangers of “too much sitting” seem to be headed. But, like all hype cycles, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle rather than on the peaks or in the valleys. With that in mind, it’s worth looking at an interesting study just published in the American Journal of Epidemiology that finds jobs that require a lot of standing to be much worse for your health than jobs that require mostly sitting.

Yet there is a significant body of research that standing desks could improve productivity, improve health, and even improve mood. So what gives?

Digging deeper into many of the studies, I discovered what several others have also pointed out. There’s two very different types of standing desks. One is a quote-unquote true standing desk, which requires you to stand all day. The other is a “standing capable” desk, which is very different. These desks, also called sit-stand desks, allow the users to transition between the two throughout the day. The jury is out, however, on if that’s any better or worse than anything else. As was written in Popular Science:

In the midst of all this sitting and standing, don’t forget to get up and walk around regardless of your cubicle set-up. Of course, there’s already got a money-making gadget for that solution: A treadmill desk. For around $4,000 a piece.[…]  sometimes you just need to sit and focus. And that’s okay. Sitting down is okay. The important thing is that you remember to get up and take a walk once you’ve completed your task.


Looking for something to listen to this weekend?

May I suggest Limetown? When I was traveling for work recently, I downloaded and binge-listened to the entire season. It’s one of the very few audio dramas I’ve listened to that managed to make me wonder, 30,000 feet in the air and disconnected from all wifi, if I’d entered a universe where this story actually really was the case. It’s like NPR, the creators of Serial and S-Town, and Welcome to Night Vale all had a wild night and this was the unexpected love child. It was originally released in 2015, but still holds up well against even the modern, wonderful explosion of audio drama.

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.