The standing-desk craze had only just arrived in 2011 when things started getting a little weird. First came the clunkier “treadmill” desk, followed by the wildly awkward-looking “elliptical-machine” desk. “I’ve seen boardrooms stocked with stationary bikes around the table,” says Phil Haberstro founder and executive director of the Wellness Institute. That’s right, the enormous communal spinning desk.
While these may seem like a great idea—exercise is, after all, linked to faster learning, speedier memory encoding and retrieval, and greater creativity—exercise while working is actually a complicated issue.
“Research shows that people who use treadmill desks—or even those balancing balls that look so cool—are finding that multitasking physical tasks [such as walking or balancing while typing] can be just as counterproductive as multitasking mental tasks,”
Fried- man says. In other words, if that’s what you’re doing, you’re doing too much. “You’re splitting your attention, and you’re probably making a lot of typos.”
The research, published by the journal PLOS ONE last February, calculated that treadmill desks cause a dip in performance that lasts up to six months. In the case of exercise-ball chairs, there’s evidence suggesting you may want to avoid them, too. A 2009 U.K. study showed that sitting on an exercise ball promoted an unhealthy slumping posture, and a study by Dutch researchers that same year found that it led to the compression of your vertebrae, or spinal shrinkage.
Get on your feet to burn off fat
We at Men’s Fitness officially endorse the standing desk. Not only does working standing up not overtax the brain, it has the added benefit of burning 80–100 calories an hour, improving blood flow, alleviating back pain, strengthening muscles, and actually boosting productivity. “The health benefits are probably even greater than the data already suggests,” says James Levine, M.D., Ph.D., a lead researcher on the PLOS ONE study and author of Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It
So what’s the right way to pull it off? For starters, ease into it. “People usually start standing all day, instantly, and that’s a mistake,” says Levine, who’s also co- director of the Mayo Clinic and Arizona State University’s Obesity Solutions Initiative. “The risk is that your body will get worn down by working your muscles far longer than you’re used to.” And be prepared to experience a firm tightness in your meniscus, the padding in your knees that absorbs pressure—it will fade over time.
Take a load off to fight fatigue
Any time you find yourself truly uncomfortable, take a seat, says Levine, who suggests setting a timer to alternate standing for 50 minutes with sitting for 10 minutes when you start out. It’s also helpful to use an anti- fatigue mat, a rubber pad that palpably softens the pressure on your knees and ankles by promoting subtle movements of your leg muscles, which then pump more blood through the body. (The effects are profound— especially if you’re wearing leather dress shoes.)
If your colleagues make fun of you for hovering like a watchtower over your floor—and they will—counter with the facts. “You have to be prepared to give everyone in your office the full health rundown,” says Mat Honan, Buzzfeed’s Silicon Valley bureau chief and a devout stand-up worker. They’ll ask you about it for the first three weeks, he warns. But after that, they’ll just be eyeing you with jealousy