Forget standing desks; will sit-stand desks save us?

The sit-stand desk is about alleviating fatigue: when sitting gets to be too much, try standing. When standing starts to hurt, try sitting again.

First, they came for our chairs. Science told us that sitting would kill us – one analysis of 47 studies found that prolonged sitting, like a person, does in an office, increasing the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Then came the advent of the standing desk, which everybody presumed to be healthier. Standing desks invaded offices everywhere until research found that they might not be so great either. One study showed that they increased back pain and slowed cognitive function. Plus standing all day doesn’t really burn more calories than sitting, as it turns out.

Follow Ladders on Flipboard!

Follow Ladders’ magazines on Flipboard covering Happiness, Productivity, Job Satisfaction, Neuroscience, and more!


The idea behind the sit-stand desk is about alleviating fatigue: when sitting gets to be too much, try standing. When standing starts to hurt your back, try sitting again.
That’s all fine if it helps your aches and pains, but researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Tufts analyzed 53 studies and published their own study in Applied Ergonomics that tells us not to expect too many health benefits from this setup.

To sit? To stand? Should you just squat all day?

The research concluded that the sit-stand desk offered only mild benefits, like a decrease in blood pressure and a decrease in lower back pain. They don’t help with a lack of exercise, though – after all, standing, like sitting, is also a sedentary task. They did, however, get people to stand more than they sat, and feel relief from body pain.
And no – sit-stand desks are not a substitute for exercise; no desks are.
“Similar to sitting in one place for extended periods, standing still does little to increase heart rate or burn excess calories,” said study author Nancy Baker, an associate professor in the Tufts Department of Occupational Therapy, in a release.
 
Is there a  “healthy” way to work for eight or more hours a day? Maybe, maybe not. The debate rages on! Maybe a little bit of change is all we can hope for.
“Though these are mild benefits, certain populations might benefit greatly from even a small change in their health,” said April Chambers of the Swanson School of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh.

You might also enjoy…

Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.