Standing Desks Are Overrated

Standing desks have become trendy in recent years — so much so that they have been promoted by some health officials as well as some countries. Research, however, suggests that warnings about sitting at work are overblown, and that standing desks are overrated as a way to improve health. From a report: Dr. David Rempel, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, who has written on this issue, said, “Well-meaning safety professionals and some office furniture manufacturers are pushing sit-stand workstations as a way of improving cardiovascular health — but there is no scientific evidence to support this recommendation.” Let’s start with what we know about research on sitting, then explain why it can be misleading as it relates to work. A number of studies have found a significant association between prolonged sitting time over a 24-hour period and increased risk for cardiovascular disease. A 2015 study, for instance, followed more than 150,000 older adults — all of whom were healthy at the start of the study — for almost seven years on average. Researchers found that those who sat at least 12 hours a day had significantly higher mortality than those who sat for less than five hours per day.

For convenience and comfort, it’s nice to have options if you have various aches and pains — “Alternating standing and sitting while using a computer may be useful for some people with low back or neck pain,” he said — but people shouldn’t be under the illusion that they’re getting exercise. A 2012 study in JAMA Internal Medicine followed more than 220,000 people for 2.8 years on average and found similar results. Prolonged sitting over the course of a day was associated with increased all-cause mortality across sexes, ages and body mass index. So did a smaller but longer (8.6 years on average) study published in 2015 in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health. Another study from 2015, which followed more than 50,000 adults for more than three years, also found this relationship. But it found that context mattered. Prolonged sitting in certain situations — including when people were at work — did not have this same effect.