the standing desk vs. my health
October 10, 2014 8:46 AM   Subscribe

I recently noticed visible blue veins in my legs. Ahh! Relatedly, I think, I've been working at a standing desk for 7-8 hours a day for the last few months. I love it. But now I'm concerned about some cosmetic and health risks I may be taking on by doing so. Are there ways to mitigate the harm (?) I'm doing?

I have a pair of Danskos I keep at my desk that I slip on when I arrive for work. Sometimes I'll keep my heels on, but rarely for the entire day. There's music on at my workplace, and I can stand and tap my feet, bop around a bit, etc., which keeps me from being completely stationary. I can also take yoga/stretch breaks, which I don't do often enough but it's an option.

And this was all fine and good, but recently I noticed visible blue veins and smaller spidery ones on my thighs and calves. It's mildly unsightly now, but I wonder if it'll just get worse if I keep standing. I'm in my early 30s, 5-10 lbs overweight, and moderately active outside of work. No other health problems, nonsmoker, etc. And I don't feel any discomfort from standing--no foot or leg pain.

How can I prevent the spread of these veins, and am I putting myself at risk by standing? Should I exercise more, dance more at work, lose the 5-10 lbs and then some, sit more, not wear Danskos...? Or is it an inevitability of aging?

I've already checked the other "varicose veins" threads, and there were lots of suggestions for compression tights. Is that a worthy investment? And my company won't spring for a padded mat. Anything else?
posted by elken to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
People who stand a lot or are on their feet a lot for their jobs often develop varicose veins. Blood pools in the veins due to gravity and the veins can stretch out. It's a permanent thing and the only way that you can get rid of the veins in through medical treatment (injections, lasers, or surgery).

Moving your legs can help (treadmill desk) and more passive approaches like compression tights can help. The types of shoes you wear won't make a significant difference.
posted by quince at 9:33 AM on October 10, 2014

Are the blue veins sticking out, or can you just see them under the skin? Part of aging is your skin getting more transparent (see my previous question). I think spider/varicose veins are partly genetic too.
posted by Fig at 10:00 AM on October 10, 2014

Response by poster: Fig, they are not sticking out--just visible under the skin. Aging? Sigh.
posted by elken at 10:05 AM on October 10, 2014

I think it's good to alternate sitting and standing (and of course keep moving around throughout the day as much as you can). I don't have any proof, just the suspicion that standing too much poses its own problems, just like sitting.
posted by three_red_balloons at 10:37 AM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

You should definitely get compression stockings--good for circulation and reducing/preventing varicose/spider veins, whether standing- or age-related. You can buy knee-highs on Amazon for $15-$20, and you'll notice a great difference in tired feet by the end of the day.

Another thought: the increased standing, toe bopping, etc. may be leading to a bit of weight loss, which could be the cause of the increased transparency of your skin.
posted by stillmoving at 10:53 AM on October 10, 2014

I have a standing desk (for when I want to stand) and a tall "drafters chair" that fits the desk for when I want to sit.

Using a tall drafters chair, I don't have to worry about a height adjustable desk, dual workstations or anything else. When I feel the need to sit, I just scoot the chair over, sit down, and keep working.

I wish I had an answer/solution for the appearance of varicose veins. We did pickup an inexpensive anti-fatigue mat from Lowes for about $20 we use in the milkroom in our familiy farm barn. FYI in case you want to pick one up at your expense.
posted by Leenie at 10:59 AM on October 10, 2014

I read this article a few weeks ago about precisely this issue. Other media outlets are also discussing this concern.
posted by matildaben at 11:30 AM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

There is a saying in medicine "the dose makes the poison" (Paracelsus). Standing is healthier than sitting, but standing immobile for long periods of time has its own vascular and skeletal risks. If you limit your standing, you won't have these issues, including varicose veins. Mix it up. There are also treadmill desks, which are better than simply standing, and those too will minimize the varicose vein issue, although again, dose is the key, and walking steadily for 8+ hours can have negative effects too. In smaller doses it's a marvellous alternative to sitting as well as standing. I suppose however, that if your company doesn't spring for a mat, they won't spring for a treadmill desk.

The numbers as best science understands it - reported in easy to understand format in: The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer by Gretchen Reynolds - you should not spend more than 20 minutes sitting at a stretch. For every 20 minutes of sitting, you should get up and stand-walk-do mild exercise for 2 minutes. That seems to prevent the kinds of processes that are set off when you are sedentary for longer periods of time. Even just standing for 2 minutes is enough, though it is better if you can move your legs a bit, so for example you could put your weight on one leg, do a *slight* dip (practically invisible, so nobody in the office freaks out that you're - EXERCISING!!!UNO!!), then put your weight on the other leg do a slight bend, while keeping the other leg bent back at the knee, so the blood is not pooling - a kind of pumping action - and keep alternating back and forth for 2 minutes. If you can pull it off without outraging your coworkers, try, when you sit, some desk exercises, instead of just sitting still for 20 minutes. When you're on the phone, if possible, walk around etc. - basically minimize sitting still or standing still. Again the key is: sit no longer than 20 minutes at a stretch, and then give it 2 minutes of UP: standing-walking-exercising.
posted by VikingSword at 2:07 PM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Do you have an anti-fatigue mat? Besides providing some padding for your feet, they encourage you to make frequent small movements (cocking a hip, rolling forward onto the balls of your feet, etc.) that are apparently much healthier than standing still. I believe OSHA requires anti-fatigue mats for workers who stand.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:15 PM on October 10, 2014

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