Hope for the Heart—and Back, and Neck

Alternatives to the standard desk may combat health hazards of prolonged sitting

By Dana Wilkie Apr 12, 2016
  • Alternatives to the standard work desk may combat the health hazards of prolonged sitting.

  • The fitness ball chair: These large, bouncy creations provide the back support needed to prevent injury while encouraging active sitting.

  • The standing desk: Everyone's heard of these, but one of the latest iterations is the foldable cardboard desk that is portable and can adjust between a standard sitting desk and standing work station. (Refold)

  • The lift desk: This structure fits on top of any flat surface, and has an adjustable panel that slides up or down, allowing one to quickly transition between sitting and standing. (Lift Desk)

  • The trek desk: This fits over most standard treadmills. It typically has a stand for laptops and documents. (Trek Desk)

  • The bicycle desk: LifeSpan's fully adjustable exercise bike can be rolled beneath the workstation, converting the station into a conventional standing desk. (LifeSpan Bike Desk)

  • An elliptical desk: This combines a semi-recumbent elliptical chair and a desk of adjustable height, allowing one to pedal while working. (Cubii)

  • Lying down on the job? Does this sound worse for your health than prolonged sitting? Actually, many computer ergonomics experts agree that the easiest-on-your-body posture for interfacing with a computer is leaning back or reclining. (Altwork)

If sitting is the new smoking—as health experts now tell us—then what are we to make of all the poor, desk-bound wretches at workplaces around the world? Are they doomed to early heart attacks and strokes?

If you believe those who promote “alternative desks,” then there may yet be hope for the hearts, backs, necks and circulatory systems of office employees.

As early as 2013, a Harvard Business Review blog reported that American workers spend an average of 9.3 hours a day just sitting. Extended sitting, it said, slows the body’s metabolism and affects things like HDL levels—the good cholesterol in the body.

“Research shows that this lack of physical activity is directly tied to 6 percent of the impact for heart diseases, 7 percent for type 2 diabetes, and 10 percent for breast cancer, or colon cancer,” the blog reported. “You might already know that the death rate associated with obesity in the United States is now 35 million. But do you know what it is in relationship to tobacco? Just 3.5 million.”

Maybe New Desks Can Help?

So should the desk-bound just give up?

Maybe not yet. An April 2011 New York Times Magazine article profiled two prominent physicians whose research concluded that intermittent movement throughout the day can offset “the deleterious effects of prolonged sitting,” according to the article.

Since then, manufacturers have dreamed up several types of desks that allow for movement—even while phoning, typing and crunching the figures on that Excel sheet—as seen in the slideshow above.

Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.


Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Post a Job

HR Professional Development Education in a City Near You

SHRM Seminars are coming to cities across the US this fall.

Find a Seminar


Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect