If you have a desk job, you likely also have sore shoulders, tight hips, and back pain. Once you leave work you probably sit in your car or on the subway, sit down to dinner, then plop down on the couch for some well-deserved Netflix-and-chill time. While there are myriad studies that detail just how bad sitting is for your body, you might not know that parking your butt in a chair all day can also affect your mood. Don’t fret my friendlies; you can totally turn this around simply by standing up. That’s right, standing at work is good for your mental health, and it can offset some of the negative consequences of all that sitting.
“Particularly in offices or jobs in which sitting for long hours is common, we may be limiting our opportunities to increase mental and physical health. We lose out on the many benefits that standing affords such as weight loss, decreased risk for heart disease, increased metabolic health, cognitive stimulation, increased energy, increased productivity, and improved mood,” Dr. Madeline William, a psychologist who treats patients via telehealth app, LiveHealth Online, tells I AM & CO. “We have seen a trend of many offices promoting standing desks, and the beneficial results of this change have been measured to be significant in several studies.”
I have a few friends who swear by standing at work, so I asked fellow writer Amanda Fletcher — whom I knew was struggling with the sedentary nature of her desk job — to try out the WorkFit-Z Mini Sit-Stand Desktop Workstation, which you can set on top of your regular desk and adjust for your height. According to Fletcher, and experts, here’s how standing at work can improve your mental health.
1. Standing At Work Makes You Less Anxious
Because Fletcher went from a career as a personal trainer, which involved no sitting, to a writer who works at a literary non-profit, which involves a lot of dreadful desking, I thought she would be able to give me an honest assessment about whether or not using a standing desk makes a difference in mental and emotional well-being. For her, the difference was significant. Even though she works out every morning before work, going from being active all day to being trapped in a cubicle sitting at a desk caused Fletcher’s anxiety to spike.
She often came home from work feeling jittery and depressed. “For me, standing at work went a long way toward improving my mood, reducing my anxiety, and allowing me to feel more present in my body,” says Fletcher, who is now a hardcore standing-at-work devotee.
2. Standing At Work Breaks Up Your Day
If you have an office job, the days can blur into what’s akin to watching the movie “Office Space” on repeat for the rest of your life. Jonathan Webb, a workplace trends expert for furniture manufacturer KI, tells I AM & CO that the secret to mind-body balance at work is switching it up. "The intended benefit of a standing desk is to get employees to move around — and break up the time they would otherwise spend sitting for eight hours straight,” he says.
“Of course, standing for eight hours a day isn't much better for your body than sitting for eight hours a day. The key is switching between the two positions at different intervals and increasing movement as a whole — and also getting [up] to move around and outside the office in other ways. Providing the freedom to move vertically throughout the day often makes up for the lack of horizontal movement in a larger workstation.”
3. Standing At Work Keeps You From Turning Into A Robot
While sitting all day is harmful on its own, when you add what you do while you’re sitting into the mix, you’ve got a toxic recipe for your psyche. “Some of the psychological effects of sitting may also be rooted in what people tend to do while in their chairs,” Health writer Linda Wasmer Andrews explains on Psychology Today.
“They may stare at an electronic screen, rather than connecting emotionally with others. They may watch mindless TV shows, rather than engaging intellectually with the world. Or they may multitask ceaselessly — flitting between work emails, personal texts, social media, and the internet — rather than honing their attention.”
When you stand, you’re generally more present in your body. What’s more, switching between standing and sitting at regular intervals can break the spell that probably makes you look like that creepy robot girl from the throwback ‘80s TV show “Small Wonder.”
4. Standing At Work Helps Combat Depression
If you’re already living with a mental illness, you might not know that sitting down all day in front of your computer can increase feelings of anxiety and depression, according to studies. Moving the body in general does help some people feel less anxious and depressed, so it makes sense that the opposite is also true.
An Australian study found that employees who sat for more than six hours at work reported significant psychological distress, with the highest levels reported by women. Another study found women who spent the majority of their day at work sitting were more likely to experience symptoms of depression than those who did not sit. Personally, I have a hard time concentrating on writing when I am standing. However, I do get up every hour and move around, and I take at least two long walks during the work day.
Webb calls this active design. “There are strategies any employee can take to improve their work style and incorporate activity throughout the day. Encouraging face-to-face meetings, walking meetings, taking the stairs, and moving to different areas of your workplace to work are just a few simple strategies.” It’s kind of like all of those walk and talk scenes between Lorelai and Rory on Gilmore Girls.
5. It Improves Your Memory
In 2018, researchers know more than ever before about the human brain. But in the grand scheme of things, that is actually very little. That being said, what is being uncovered is fascinating. One recent study found a correlation between sitting and the thinning of the medial temporal lobe, which is the part of your brain responsible for storing memories like facts and events.
“Better understanding the effects of sedentary behavior on our brains is important given the global epidemic of physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles,” the study published in the journal PLOS One reported. While the findings warrant further investigation, standing for at least part of the day at work could keep your medial temporal lobe thick and your memories intact.
If you, like me, aren’t more productive while standing, make sure you take plenty of breaks. You can even set an alarm on your phone to remind you to get up and go for a walk every few hours. If you work from home and you have a pet, spend some time playing with or walking your pet during your work day. Because, seriously, with all the other things you have to worry about these days, sitting yourself into a depressive spiral shouldn’t be one of them.