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Standing desks take aim at the scourge of sitting

Christianson's Business Furniture employees use the adjustable height desks at their workstations. Darren Gibbins / The Forum

FARGO — When Joel Thomsen worked for the state of Maine 15 years ago, he wedged cinderblocks under his desk so he could stand while working.

At a more recent job, a small section of his desk would rise to accommodate standing.

Now his entire L-shaped executive desk at Bell State Bank & Trust in downtown Fargo goes up and down with the touch of a button. He can program up to three set heights.

Standing eases his back pain, said Thomsen, executive vice president of the Wealth Management Division. Standing on a gel mat keeps his feet and calves from hurting.

“The reason it works for me is I go into a lot of meetings,” Thomsen said. He sits through those and stands at his desk, raising his monitor up to eye level for reading.

More and more research has shown the benefit of reducing sitting in the workplace.

A study on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website links prolonged sitting time with premature mortality, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity. It also showed efforts to cut time spent sitting reduced upper back and neck pain and improved mood.

While the hydraulic technology for adjustable-height desks has been around for decades, demand has increased greatly in recent years, say those in office furniture sales and design.

Roger Christianson, of Christianson’s Business Furniture in Fargo, said he used to get calls “every now and then” asking about standing-height desks. Within the past two years, it’s gone from monthly to weekly to now almost daily.

Christianson said changes in the way we work — printing to a PDF file instead of walking to the printer, clicking send on an email instead of getting up to send a fax — mean we sit even more at sedentary jobs.

Kim Christianson, part owner of Christianson’s, said she’s read articles calling sitting “the new smoking.”

She stands at her desk, using a gel mat as well as a footrest to shift her weight.

“You feel so much better, so much more awake, so much more efficient,” Kim Christianson said, adding that standing also burns more calories.

Paul Hannaher, president of Hannaher’s Inc., an office furniture company in Fargo, said height adjustability isn’t just about personal fitness but worker retention for employers.

“If you’re offering a workspace that’s inviting and friendly and takes into account employees’ health and demonstrate that with the furniture you’re buying, it can help you retain employees, it can help you draw employees,” Hannaher said.

He noted that treadmills can also be incorporated into work stations.

Other office furniture and accessories accommodate standing in the workplace.

Monitor arms allow computer screens to be raised and lowered, as well as turned for collaboration and sharing.

A tilted stool, for “perching” at a raised desk, allows workers to rest while still keeping the core engaged, Roger Christianson said.

Hannaher said some employees with a standard-height desk may prefer to sit on an exercise ball for the health benefits. Stationary balance balls, which feature a base, are available for workplace use.

“It still gives you the core stability,” Hannaher said. “You don’t have the risk of rolling around the office.” 

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