Is a Standing Desk the Fix for Prolonged Sitting?

When I first started running, I couldn’t finish a 3-mile run and was sore for two weeks. Was running supposed to make your legs feel like they went through a meat grinder?!

Jason Finish Line

Me, feeling like my legs were put through a meat grinder. More carnage on Insta!

But soon, the feeling of being run over by a tractor subsided. As my fitness grew over the weeks and months, it was replaced by a feeling of strength.

I felt powerful and fast. Soon, I ran a sub-6:00 mile… and then 5:19 by the end of the indoor track season. I had never felt so athletic and in control of my body as I did during that first year of running.

Flash forward eight years after high school, college, and a combined 24 seasons of cross country and track and I started my first job.

My first memory? How sitting down for eight hours all day made my butt sore.

For the first time in my life, I was forced to spend a large majority of my day planted in a seat. And that feeling was the very opposite of how I felt as a new runner.

Gradually, I got used to sitting for prolonged periods of time. At no point did I have a fun ergonomic chair, an adjustable standing desk, or any way to mitigate the effects of being slumped in a chair for a third of the day.

When I started running after work, I noticed the difference:

  • Warming up was harder and took longer
  • I felt tight and stiff like I had just run a workout
  • My running felt uncoordinated and “clunky”

I soon realized that going from “Couch to Track” was inviting injury and limiting my running performance.

Then, the effects of sitting for long periods of time started being studied.

The results left me worried that my lifestyle wasn’t just detrimental to my running, but my overall health and longevity. Running is important, but even more so is my general health.

But let’s step back for a minute.

Is Sitting Really That Bad For You?

Bad Sitting Posture

Spending a majority of the day sitting down is quite bad for your general health – even if you run a lot!

A wide variety of studies (including this particularly scary one) summarize the negative effects of prolonged sitting. Sitting…

  • increases your risk of heart disease, some cancers, obesity, and diabetes
  • reduces HDL (or “good”) cholesterol in the body
  • increases fatty acids in the blood
  • Puts you at a great risk of dying…

To put salt in the wound, the science is clear that no amount of exercise will negate all that sitting. It’s an unhealthy behavior on its face because of how long your muscles go without any contractions.

Nevertheless, Americans are still spending an average of 13 hours per day sitting down.

Even if you’re running a lot, it won’t counterbalance all this sedentary behavior. It’s still unhealthy (just like if you smoked a pack of cigarettes per day and ran a lot).

Usually, you’ll read that the answer to this problem is an adjustable standing desk.

Standing is better than sitting, right? Not so fast.

Standing Desks are Not a Panacea

Jarvis Adjustable Standing Desk

If you think that a standing desk will solve this problem, then unfortunately I have bad news: standing isn’t much healthier than sitting.

Prolonged standing has its own risks:

  • Increased risk of back pain
  • This study shows that standing for 6 hours per day doubles or triples your risk of needing surgery for varicose veins
  • Excessive fatigue and lethargy
  • Sore feet, swollen legs, and muscular stiffness

The New York Times recently ran a story decrying adjustable standing desks as overrated. Here’s a key excerpt:

Many health groups recommend that people at work take frequent walking breaks. Replacing sitting with standing does not fulfill that recommendation and may even mislead people into thinking they’re doing enough activity.

Standing is not exercise, after all.

But while standing desks will not improve your cardiovascular health and replacing sitting with standing is not recommended, that’s not really the argument I’m going to make here.

Thinking that you have to either sit for the day or stand all day is a false choice. The reality is that humans are made to move and we should continue that trend during the workday.

The Solution: Varied Movements

Instead of a binary choice of “sit or stand” we should take a more nuanced view of how to optimize our workday.

As creatures of movement, our best option is variety:

  • Sit (helpful if you can sit in a variety of chairs)
  • Stand
  • Kneel or sit cross-legged

If we could take several recesses throughout the day to hit the playground, we’d all be better off.

That’s because we shouldn’t spend a large chunk of time in any one position because our muscles are plastic. They can be molded and shaped and they remember the positions that we put them in. If you slouch in front of your computer for a few decades, that’s just what your posture will look like…

All that time sitting will make your quadriceps and hip flexors tighten. If you spend all day standing, your lower back and feet will get stiff and sore.

In addition to varied positions throughout the day, we should always look for opportunities for more movement, too:

  • Taking a phone call or short meeting? Walk around the office or around the block
  • Use the printer on the other side of the office, forcing a quick walk
  • Use your lunch hour productively to run, lift weights, or go for a walk
  • Walk to your colleague’s desk rather than sending an email
  • Use an ergonomic chair and desk setup to improve bodily positions

I’ve long tried to incorporate more movement into my day, but I haven’t optimized my desk. I was still sitting down in the same position for most of the day – and I could feel it.

But I’ve changed that: I’m now a proud owner of a Jarvis adjustable standing desk.

And I’ve never felt better.

The Jarvis Adjustable Standing Desk

A few months ago I reached out to Fully, a company that creates office furniture for active people. I wanted to prompt myself to sit down less during the day and Fully’s products would not only help me do that, but succeed in style.

I now have a Jarvis adjustable standing desk with a crazy stool called the Tic-Toc Chair. Check out my setup:

Jarvis Standing Desk

Like I mentioned before, standing (as opposed to sitting) is not a panacea. It’s not necessarily any healthier than sitting down because both, for prolonged periods of time, have major drawbacks.

But the answer to this conundrum is variety. Now I have options. I can…

  • Sit on a stool that swivels and rocks back and forth (the rocking is a lot of fun!)
  • Stand up (allowing me to move more freely)
  • Kneel on the floor (I’m doing this as I’m typing; while not the most comfortable, 10-15 minutes at a time feels good)
  • Pull a regular chair over and sit “normally”

Varying my movements and body positions throughout the day – instead of staying slumped in a chair for eight hours – helps me reduce soreness, avoid some of that inevitable afternoon drowsiness, makes it easier for me to transition to running after I’ve been working, and helps prevent injuries.

I also created a video about why runners should think about standing desks:

Besides the function of my Jarvis standing desk, I also love its style:

  • The bamboo table top is attractive and one-of-a-kind
  • The alloy metal is a stark contrast – in a good way
  • Bamboo is also sustainable (it matures in 5 years and releases 35% more oxygen than similar trees)
  • The programmable

Successful runners know that running is a lifestyle, not just a sport or a hobby. What you do the other 23 hours of the day is just as important to your overall health and longevity as an athlete.

And I’m not the only runner who’s using a Fully desk to aid their running!

Is a Jarvis Standing Desk Right For You?

I don’t think these types of desks are perfect for everyone. If you’re at a higher risk of varicose veins or have other medical issues that could be exacerbated by standing for an hour or two at a stretch, it’s best to wait and ask your doctor if something like this is right for you.

But for the majority of folks, an adjustable standing desk is another tool in your injury prevention toolbox. It will prompt you to sit, stand, kneel, or rock.

And that variety of movement (not necessarily all that standing) is what really helps you prevent injuries long-term.

Of course, you should focus on more impactful injury prevention strategies like:

  • Running itself (periodization, progressions, and distribution of effort)
  • Strength training regularly
  • Running appropriate paces
  • Lifestyle factors like sleep, stress, and nutrition

But once you’ve nailed the fundamentals, it’s time to think about other avenues for growth.

And I think an adjustable Jarvis Standing Desk is a great option. Check out the options and build your own here.

Leave a comment below: How do you structure your lifestyle – the other 23 hours of the day – to promote injury prevention and help your running?

Note: Fully provided my office set up in exchange for this review. They did not review it before it went live nor did they influence it any way. This is my honest assessment of their products, which I love and use every day.

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  1. Yup for sure, moving around is much better than sitting all day and it’s tricky for me, I’m in software.

    Also, I find your opening statement interesting: “When I first started running, I couldn’t finish a 3-mile run and was sore for two weeks.”

    The implication in my mind is that you are a “run fast” person. I’ve talked to various people and for most, when the tendency on a run is to just keep running faster and faster. If they don’t actively keep their speed in check they eventually run out of air or their legs start to give out.

    I’m the opposite, I need to keep monitoring my pace and make sure I don’t dawdle. I’m looking around and thinking about “stuff” which distracts me from the task of running.

    I guess for me, as a “hobby runner”, this works out well. However it also means competitive running isn’t in my future either. (OK being 57 doesn’t help either).

    This might make an interesting topic for a future article or podcast.

    Keep up the great stuff!

    • Thanks John!

      I was certainly not fast when I started. Like I mentioned, I tried running 3 miles and couldn’t finish it. Running very slowly for about 20 minute left me that sore!

  2. The standing desk negatives don’t take into account the highly recommend practice of also using an anti-fatigue mat with the desk. This allows varied movements and position shifts, while also preventing fatigue in legs and feet. I can spend an entire work day standing on a mat without issue, yet feel my feet and legs grow tires just standing on normal carpeting after 30 minutes.

  3. Mark Peterc says:

    Thanks for this Jason, very interesting.

    I switched to a standing desk set up (hacking a cheap Ikea coffee table to get a height that suited me) about 3 years ago. I find it suits me perfectly: I used to have multiple pain areas around my butt/glutes/thighs that have basically disappeared, and find I’m not nearly so stiff.

    OTOH, I find that if I sit at a table for an extended time (over a leisurely breakfast while reading, or out at a restaurant with friends) I’ll be very stiff and sore as soon as I stand up and start to move around.

    Something I don’t find with standing.

    Sure with the standing set up, my feet get a little sore, but certainly none of the lower back pain you mention (and this is speaking as someone who had a debilitating bout of sciatica about 5 years ago). I do find it’s essential to wear a pair of decent runners (ie, shoes that give good foot support, cushioning, etc) while standing for long periods.

    When I worked sitting down (and I did buy an expensive ergonomic chair after my sciatica), I would often find that after an intense period of work (I do lots of writing on a computer) I’d basically barely moved in an hour or 2.

    In comparison, with standing, because it’s a little tiring, I am ALWAYS moving a bit; changing my weight distribution between legs, leaning against the wall that’s to one side of my desk, etc.

    There’s one other benefit I found with the standing set up (and something I’ve not ever seen discussed): I NEVER get constipated any more. Regular as clockwork, which is something I’ve not always been. Makes me wonder if this is the great untold story for standing desks!

    Anyway, thanks again for raising this subject.

    A bit of background about me: self-employed. 63 years old, run 5-6 km 4-5 days a week, plenty of walking in between.

  4. Love this article. I have been looking at an considering an extension desk to adapt my work station. My hips & tail bone really struggle with the sitting. If I get stuck in traffic travelling to work & trip is near an hour. I struggle to get out of car after a morning run. Luckily we have a shed off our office. And I try to walk down the shed & back at least 4 times a day just to be moving. Or stand at my desk squatting. It’s quite entertaining for everyone. I thought it was just me & age (near 50). I feel more normal reading all your comments. Thanks. 😊

  5. Good article about a serious topic.
    I used to run but now I mainly walk to protect my knees and hip. I had a surgery on my right ankle shortly after falling down a slope. This caused me to have a couple of broken bones but I recovered quickly. After that, I went back to running until my right hip started to give me some issues which led me to walk most of the time and run once a while. I agree that walking or running by itself is not enough if we sit for an extended period of time at work or home. I work for a big corporation and I literally spend more than eight hours sitting in front of a computer screen doing my work. I used to have a feeling of soreness and stiffness in the legs from lack of motion and idle feet. This led me to develop a simple and portable device, LegPET, that I can place under my desk and use to move my legs against a resistance while sitting. This equipment not only increased my range of motion, but it toned my leg muscles and improved my circulation. I use this machine when I am sitting, and I do take a few breaks to walk around. Thank you

  6. I use a kneeling chair for most of my working day (I alternate with normal chair when feeling too tired). The advantage is that you cannot stay on it for more than one hour without feeling some discomfort in the knees, due to the way the weight is distributed on legs and buttocks. So it forces you to get up often to move your legs and stretch a bit