Try to mix moving and sitting, experts say
New gadgets and gear -- treadmill desks, balance boards, moving chairs -- can help
You’ve probably heard by now – most likely while you were parked in front of your TV or computer – that sitting kills.
In a perfect world, we would spend more time at work and home on our feet. Standing tones your muscles and could reduce the risk of heart disease. But too much of it can hurt your back and feet and reduce circulation. Try to mix moving and sitting, experts say. Going between your seat and your feet is good for bones and muscle, too.
Related: Stand up, sit less and move more, researchers say; here’s how to do it
Unfortunately this is all easier said than done. “We get busy, and work takes priority,” said Alan Hedge, professor of ergonomics at Cornell University. Back to our seats we go.
New gadgets and gear can help, to an extent. Hedge recommends thinking about what makes sense for your workflow. If you do a lot of writing, a standing desk might make more sense than a treadmill desk, as research suggests walking and typing do not go well together. And before you invest in either, try a DIY version, such as elevating your laptop on a platform on your desk to test whether you are able to work upright.
It’s not all about standing and walking, either. It’s important to have a work chair in which you can move around a bit too. There are new kinds available that make it easier to shift in your seat and still reach your computer and mouse, unlike the good old reclining back variety, Hedge said.
All this might sound complicated, but there has been an explosion of fitness trackers, from the Apple Watch to Garmin devices, to help you manage your movement.
Another tip is to introduce only one new item into your work area at a time. “Everything you add is an adjustment, and you are making your life more complicated,” Hedge said. Try a cushiony standing mat or fitness tracker first, lest you get overwhelmed and your treadmill desk goes the way of so many treadmills that are collecting dust in basements across the country.
Try wiggling your hips like a hula dancer while seated at your desk. It might actually feel good! That’s the concept of the CoreChair. Research by CoreChair suggests its product activates abdominal muscles more than a balance ball. But you can also just lock the chair in position and use it like any other chair. “I sat in the chair for a day and I could feel an effect … that the core muscles have been used,” said Hedge, who has a chair on loan from the company to study. Priced at $995.
The first thing you notice about SpinalGlide’s ergokinetic chairs is that the seat is split into two panels. According to the company, this design gives your pelvis and lower back greater mobility, easing lower back pain. Although these chairs don’t do much for the core muscles, they do make it easy to move your legs up and down, whereas the CoreChair requires you to plant your feet on the floor for stability, Hedge said. Chairs start at $599 and stools start at $380.
Stir Kinetic Desk
Many tools can help ease your transition from sitting to standing at your desk, but the Kinetic Desk M1 by Stir practically does it all for you. The desk has sensors that detect whether you’re seated or standing, and shifts slightly up or down (on its own!) to nudge you to change position. You can control the desk’s movement, and keep track of your own movement and the calories you’ve burned through a little screen in the bottom left hand corner of the desk. A desk this smart will set you back; it costs $2,990.
Fundamentals EX electric desk
The Fundamentals EX Electric by Workrite is one of several standing desk options that are more affordable (if less intelligent) than the Stir Kinetic Desk. It looks like an ordinary desk until you push a button and up or down it goes. Keep in mind that you will have to plug the desk into an outlet. It takes about 30 seconds to change position, which could be the perfect opportunity to move around a bit. It costs $1,250.
Varidesk Pro Plus 36
For the many of us who aren’t ready to discard our conventional desks, there are retrofit products that can get you on your feet. Varidesk’s Pro Plus 36 is essentially a two-tiered platform for your desk. The top tier brings your computer screen to eye level, the bottom deck keeps your keyboard and mouse at wrist level. You use a spring-loaded handle to raise (or lower) the platform and – voila! – you have yourself a standing desk. Priced at $350.
Seemingly the perfect antidote to a sedentary workplace is the treadmill desk, and there is no shortage of options. The treadmill desks from LifeSpan offer a range of features, including manually adjustable desk height. But remember, these desks can put a real wrench in some types of work. A recent study found that people working on a treadmill desk only managed to type 49 words a minute, compared with the 60 words that seated workers pounded out. Best to stick to reading and talking while walking, Hedge said. Prices range from $799 for a treadmill that goes under an existing desk to $2,499 for a deluxe edition with a companion sitting desk.
Electric stair stepper
If you want to move more at your standing desk without spending hundreds on a treadmill, an electric stair stepper might be the way to go. The Gold’s Gym mini stepper gives you the feel of having a moderate workout, according to one user. The stair stepper is not all that different from marching in place, so you could try that first, Hedge said. If you like it and want more resistance, buy the stepper. Price is about $45.
Fluidstance balance board
Part of the problem with a standing desk is the strain it puts on your feet and legs. Fluidstance boards allow you to rock your weight side to side and back and forth, relieving that strain. According to the company, people using the product had a 15% increase in heart rate and their typing performance did not suffer. Nevertheless, these types of products would be expected to slow down motor skills such as typing and mouse work just like a treadmill desk, said Hedge. Prices range from $89 to $489. The Steppie Balance Board is a more affordable, if less snazzy option, at $100.
Your butt needs a cushion for extended periods of sitting; so do your feet for standing. The anti-fatigue mat by Ergo Depot, which also makes standing desks, is a spongy platform to ease your transition to upright working. The downside is that these mats can be heavy, so the extra step of dragging it in place after you push your chair away could cause an injury or at least feel cumbersome, Hedge said. Price is $75.
There are plenty of devices that can help you keep track of your movement (or lack thereof), and spur you to your feet. The Apple Watch monitors how long you’ve been on your butt, allows you to set goals for standing and moving, and sends you reminders to help you meet those goals. Garmin’s Vivofit band alerts you when it’s time to start standing. A device called Lumo Lift clasps onto your shirt and reminds you stop slouching. The Apple Watch starts at about $350, the Vivofit is $100 and Lumo Lift is $65.