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How the Standing Desk Can Improve Your Health

Don’t walk, don’t spin, and definitely don’t sit on some damn rubber ball while you’re trying to work.

The standing-desk craze had only just arrived in 2011 when things started getting a little weird. First came the clunkier “treadmill” desk, followed by the wildly awkward-looking “elliptical-machine” desk. “I’ve seen boardrooms stocked with stationary bikes around the table,” says Phil Haberstro founder and executive director of the Wellness Institute. That’s right, the enormous communal spinning desk. 

While these may seem like a great idea—exercise is, after all, linked to faster learning, speedier memory encoding and retrieval, and greater creativity—exercise while working is actually a complicated issue. “Research shows that people who use treadmill desks—or even those balancing balls that look so cool—are finding that multitasking physical tasks
[such as walking or balancing while typing] can be just as counterproductive as multitasking mental tasks,” Fried- man says. In other words, if that’s what you’re doing, you’re doing too much. “You’re splitting your attention, and you’re probably making a lot of typos.”

The research, published by the journal PLOS ONE last February, calculated that treadmill desks cause a dip in performance that lasts up to six months. In the case of exercise-ball chairs, there’s evidence suggesting you may want to avoid them, too. A 2009 U.K. study showed that sitting on an exercise ball promoted an unhealthy slumping posture, and a study by Dutch researchers that same year found that it led to the compression of your vertebrae, or spinal shrinkage.


We at Men’s Fitness officially endorse the standing desk. Not only does working standing up not overtax the brain, it has the added benefit of burning 80–100 calories an hour, improving blood flow, alleviating back pain, strengthening muscles, and actually boosting productivity. “The health benefits are probably even greater than the data already suggests,” says James Levine, M.D., Ph.D., a lead researcher on the PLOS ONE study and author of Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It.



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