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The White House reportedly wants to shell out a whopping $700,000 for standing desks. While it’s true that sitting all day long has debilitating health effects, and it’s smart business to keep employees healthy, it’s an extraordinary amount of money to pay for something that can be recreated with a free cardboard box. Additionally, the research on standing desks (as opposed to treadmill walking desks) is far less clear about the actual impacts on health.
Standing desks have become a trend in modern offices, as businesses rage against the dangers of prolonged sitting. An entire cottage industry of fancy standing desks, which range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand, have raced to fill the void. The higher end standing desks automatically raise and lower with the touch of a button.
But is it really worth the splurge for D.C. (or anyone, really) to fork over nearly three-quarters of a million dollars?
Fortunately, for most employers, few people need a desk specifically designed for standing. Any old desk can be converted to a standing desk for cheap. The former CEO of Hulu.com once showed me how he constructed his own standing desks out old candy boxes. I do the same thing at my workplace: I use stacks of books or boxes lying around. It’s free, and it can work just as well.
If the CEO of a major tech company can use a cheap low-tech solution, so can most everyone else. I simply place my laptop on top of the box when I need to stand, and take it off to sit. It’s really that simple.
The thing about workplace health is less about sitting, but prolonged time in any position. Standing or walking for prolonged periods of time come with their own detrimental health impacts. The goal is, generally speaking, to hold many positions throughout the day, transitioning between sitting, walking, standing and even working out.
Moreover, the benefits of standing desks aren’t entirely clear. A recent meta-analysis (study of studies) found that standing desks had mild benefits for weight loss and cholesterol, but could also induce discomfort. Working at a standing desk requires (very) good posture sustained over a long period of time, which can be difficult without training.
If the White House really wanted to shell out some money for something that would have a huge impact, treadmill desks would be the way to go. Treadmill desks help people lose weight, be active, and improve productivity.
There are exceptions, of course. A worker who has to use multiple large screen monitors all day long might need a standing desk (it’s hard to move around a big screen throughout the day). And, standing desks are especially good for obese workers, who can benefit a lot from minor amounts of exercise.
But, other than those exceptions, the White House could have just asked its staffers to stack some old books and save taxpayers a lot of money.
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Lead photo by Tom Lohdan