6 Alternatives to Sitting in a Desk Chair

Posted by Kim Nelson on

By now, you've no doubt heard that sitting can kill you. Literally. While studies have found that increased sitting is linked to a higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, it's up to you to come up with a creative solution.

If you're trying to decide which option is best for you or have no idea where to start, here are six creative alternatives to your deadly seated desk with the pros and cons of each so you can make an informed decision on which option is best for you.

1. Standing Desk: By far, this seated-desk alternative has the most press at the moment. Maybe because it's as far from a seated desk as you can get without jumping on a treadmill.

PROS: A 2013 study found that people who use standing desks burned as many as 50 more calories per hour than their sedentary counterparts. That's the caloric equivalent of running 10 marathons a year -- without the cardiovascular benefits, of course. A 2014 review of 23 studies on standing and treadmill desks found significant physiological and psychological benefits to using a standing desk. Plus, they noted little to no difference in work productivity.

CONS: But it's not beneficial to stand all day, either. If you have a standing desk, make sure you mix things up by sitting down in meetings, getting a short walk in every 20 minutes or so or look into a variable-height desk (see below).

And, of course, if you have bad posture, even while at a standing desk, you're not doing your body any favors. Prolonged standing can also lead to foot and back pain, so you might want to invest in a comfortable floor mat. If you have heart issues, make sure you consult your cardiologist first, as prolonged standing can aggravate some cardiac issues .

PROPER FORM: Make sure you stand up straight (don't hunch your back), with your weight distributed evenly through both feet and your feet hip-distance apart. Don't lock your knees, and don't allow your weight to shift onto one hip for any extended period of time. Keep your keyboard at elbow height and your monitor at face level.

2. IndoBoard: These aren't just for hippies anymore! Sure, the IndoBoard adds a lot more challenge and can definitely be a distraction at first, but if you opt for a standing desk, it's a way to keep things interesting.

PROS: It's less expensive than a full-blown treadmill desk and activates your muscles in a way that even standing on solid ground can't. You'll need both core and hip strength to stand upright on the unstable surface -- both of which are areas that can be weakened by prolonged sitting.

CONS: It's distracting. If you're constantly worried about staying balanced on a board, getting your end-of-month reports to the team might take a bit longer. But with extended use you can adapt to the distraction. The other obvious drawback is losing your balance and falling off, but again, with practice you can mitigate this risk. Start off with five to 10 minutes on the board per hour until you find your balance.

PROPER FORM: Keep your posture the same as you would at a standing desk, but spread your feet a few inches wider than hip-width and stabilize yourself on your desk until you get comfortable using it.

3. Treadmill Desk: If you thought people with standing desks talked about their desks a lot, just wait until you meet someone with a treadmill desk. From the way they talk about it, you'd think it was the Cadillac of office furniture (Note: I fully acknowledge that I was, at one time, completely guilty of this).

PROS: It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you're walking all day (or a significant portion of it) you're going to burn more calories than being sedentary. A 2011 study found that those who used treadmill desks reduced their hip and waist size by 4.8 and 5.5 centimeters, respectively, after using the desks for nine months. Combine that with a regular workout routine, and you're that much closer to your weight-loss goals.

CONS: The noise and the distraction. Though many treadmill desks are relatively noiseless, they do still produce some noise, even on the lowest speed. That means both you and your co-workers will have to deal with the noise. And as with standing desks, you'll need to make sure you're not walking all day long. Or if your office is super-progressive, hop on the community treadmill desk while you answer emails, take a phone call or do other tasks that require less cognitive capacity.

PROPER FORM: Again, make sure your keyboard is at elbow height and your monitor is at eye level. Maintain proper walking form for the duration: knees soft, hips squared forward and landing with your heel first and rolling to your toes. For your sake (and your coworkers), keep the speed minimal (around 1.5 miles per hour).

4. Variable-Height Desk: Not ready to commit to a full standing desk? Check out some of the options that allow you to change the height of the desk from sitting to standing, like the VariDesk. They're the "Transformers" of desks.

PROS: You can easily switch from seated to standing, which is perfect, since you shouldn't be doing either one for hours at a time anyway . They have all the benefits of a standing desk (see above) with the ability to change to seated when your legs get tired.

CONS: They can be expensive (about $350 for a good one), and the less-expensive ones usually take more time to raise and lower. If time and money are a concern, check with your office to see if they have a community standing desk.

PROPER FORM: See above for proper standing form. While seated, keep your back straight (or you can even lean back slightly), both feet flat on the floor and elbows by your side, wrists resting on your desk and your eyes gazing straight forward at your monitor.

5. Seated Steppers/Ellipticals: For those who want the benefits of a treadmill desk but don't have the option to raise their desk, there are a few options for seated steppers and ellipticals you should consider, such as Cubii.

PROS: Just like a treadmill desk, you'll be burning extra calories every minute you use it. Plus, you'll avoid having your hip flexors and lower-back muscles disengage as a result of sitting. And with ones like Cubii, you can track your daily progress from an app on your phone.

CONS: During work that requires extra concentration and focus, it can be distracting to try to multitask. And though it won't completely reverse the negative effects of sitting (you should still get up and walk around every 20 to 30 minutes), it's a good start to keep you moving and active.

PROPER FORM: Sit with proper posture -- back straight or leaning back slightly, elbows at desk height and feet slightly flexed as you pedal or step. If your feet are parallel to the floor, you'll be putting too much stress on your ankle joints.

6. Stability-Ball Chair: As one of the original alternatives to an office chair, stability balls and their accompanying chairs have come a long way. While you can still use a standard stability ball, buying a base and back for it will reduce your chances of falling off while fully supporting your back and reminding you to maintain good posture.

PROS: Because of the instability of the exercise ball, there's slightly more activation in your abdominal muscles and hip flexors. Some people have even noticed an alleviation of back pain after swapping out their desk chair for a stability ball. And others enjoy bouncing around as a way to get their creative juices flowing.

CONS: As with any alternative, if you don't have correct posture, you'll do more harm than good to your lower back. You also need to make sure it's properly inflated or proper spinal alignment will be impossible.

PROPER FORM: Find a stability ball chair that puts you at a proper height. You want your hips and knees to be at 90-degree angles with your feet flat on the floor. Your desk should be elbow height and you shouldn't sink too low into the ball.


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