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To sit or not to sit: that is the question

Several facstaff are discovering the health benefits of using stand-up desks at work.

Hobie Howe has chosen to convert his workstation to a stand-up desk.


By Natalie Allison '13

Hobie Howe stays on his feet all day as a programmer and analyst in Elon’s information technology department. Don’t be mistaken — his building has plenty of chairs, and despite staying busy, Howe could easily sit down if he wanted.

 But Howe, like several other Elon University staff members, has chosen to convert his workstation to a stand-up desk and embrace what he has found to be a number of health benefits.

“People walk by my door and look at me like I’m crazy,” he says.

The strange looks are worth it to Howe, who after reading articles online and researching the health disadvantages of normal desk jobs, discovered that sitting down all day increases a person’s risk of heart disease, obesity, back problems and diabetes, among other problems.

Not wanting to rush to invest department money into a new desk for his work routine, Howe assembled his own stand-up desk using boxes. After a year of standing behind stacked boxes, Jimmy Crawford, a carpenter for the university, built Howe shelves to place on top of his old desk so he could use it while standing — a much more economical option than a $1,000 new stand-up desk.

Starting his all-day stand-up regimen, however, took some getting used to.

Debbie Perry divides her time between a stand-up desk she has created and a regular desk.

“After the first day I tried standing, I could feel it in my hips, knees and lower back,” Howe says. “It was like that for the first couple weeks. Eventually, I got used to it, and it just became second nature.”

While sitting all day may lead to obesity and sedentary habits, standing for long periods of time is not for everyone, says Srikant Vallabhajosula, assistant professor of physical therapy education, who specializes in applying the principles of biomechanics to study human posture and movement.

He points to researchers at the University of Waterloo, who found that though people use certain muscle groups more when sitting than standing, remaining static during either activity causes constant loading on the lower back. There are also studies that show standing still for 30 minutes or more may cause back pain, poor blood circulation and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

“Whether standing will decrease back pain varies from person to person,” Vallabhajosula says. “What we need to remember is that like prolonged sitting, prolonged standing carries its own share of risks. It is definitely better that you move from time to time either while sitting or standing.”

He adds the best thing to do is to mix it up, implementing any changes progressively and always moving around in between.

That’s exactly what Debbie Perry, program assistant for health and human performance and the exercise science department, decided to do. She created her own stand-up desk by stacking reams of papers to raise one of her two computer monitors and keyboards higher off her desk, but kept the other monitor and keyboard at sitting level.

“It’s wonderful to have the option to stand when my back starts hurting, but I’m still able to be productive,” Perry says.

Sitting for eight hours a day had only aggravated her back and shoulder pain from adhesive capsulitis, so Perry decided to try something different.

“I had a lot of low-back discomfort, and sitting all day long was just not good,” she says. “If you gave me a long weekend or vacation, I didn’t have near the trouble with my back. But the first day back, it would start all over again with the sitting.”

Since she began standing more frequently throughout the day, Perry has noticed much less back pain and knows she is burning more calories than simply staying seated.

Howe agrees.

“It’s also mental — I know what I’m doing is good for me,” he says. “I read the articles and know what I’m doing is healthy for me and makes me feel good.”


Keren Rivas,
10/3/2012 10:43 AM