Not a week goes by without seeing an article about how too much sitting can be hazardous to your health. This is particularly concerning given how many Americans live a sedentary lifestyle, thanks in large part to sitting for hours upon hours a day at work. And thanks to these reports, more and more people have been getting up out of their seats and utilizing a standing desk in the hope that said standing desk benefits their health at work.
However, is this standup desk trend as healthy as sitting is unhealthy? Given a rash of studies that purport sitting is the cause of all your health and weight problems, it’s easy to think so. But recent research suggests standing desk benefits may not be all they’re cracked up to be.
Standing Desk Benefits
Let’s start with the good that we know about standing desk benefits.
1. May Increase Life Expectancy
A November 2015 analysis published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine examined 54 surveys on sitting time, factoring in population size, life table and deaths in the countries in which the surveys were conducted. What the researchers found is that sitting time greater than three hours per day
… was responsible for 3.8 percent of all-cause mortality (about 433,000 deaths/year) among those 54 countries. All-cause mortality due to sitting time was higher in the countries from the Western Pacific region, followed by European, Eastern Mediterranean, American and Southeast Asian countries. Eliminating sitting time would increase life expectancy by 0.2 years in those countries. (1)
Researchers concluded that reducing sitting time can play a role in promoting an active lifestyle, which in turn can help stave off premature death. Of course, other factors could be at play here, but simply reducing sitting time has a beneficial effect.
By combining standing with the benefits of exercise, one potentially can increase life expectancy even more. You can try different types of exercise to do at your desk to help boost any standing desk benefits you may be looking for.
2. Lessens the Risk of Chronic Disease
Again, we know that sitting can do damage to your heart, vascular function and more. Conversely, standing can help limit this damage to an extent, adding a reduced risk of certain chronic diseases to the list of standing desk benefits.
For instance, in a study from the American Heart Association, 82,695 men 45 years and older from the California Men’s Healthy Study without prevalent heart failure were tracked for 10 years, looking at physical activity, sedentary time and behavioral variables from questionnaires.
Nearly 3,500 men were diagnosed with heart failure over a mean of 7.8 years, and controlling for different variables, those with the least amount of physical activity and most sedentary time were at the most risk for heart failure, in addition to coronary heart disease. (2)
These risks of prolonged sitting and inactivity don’t just affect adults or men either. A November 2015 study published in Experimental Physiology found that increasing sedentary time also increases cardiovascular risk in children. A three-hour period of uninterrupted sitting caused a 33 percent reduction in vascular function in young girls … even more alarming considering children spend more than 60 percent of their waking day sedentary. (3)
This is all the more reason to get up and get moving from an early age.
3. Improves Blood Sugar and Cholesterol Levels
A study from the University of Queensland in Australia found that standing an extra two hours a day versus sitting was associated with about 2 percent lower average fasting blood sugar levels and 11 percent lower average triglycerides in the blood. Those extra two hours standing were also attributed to lower bad cholesterol and higher good HDL cholesterol. (4)
Thus, you can add maintaining normal blood sugar and cholesterol levels to the list of potential standing desk benefits.
4. May Boost Productivity
Having a standing workstation has been associated with reducing sedentary behavior, but can it actually improve productivity at work? Research published in IIE Transactions on Occupational Ergonomics and Human Factors suggest that, yes, working at a standing desk benefits productivity.
The study compared objective productivity measures between workers who use a stand-capable desk and a seated control group in a call center over six months for 167 employees. The findings revealed that workers with desks that allow for standing were about 45 percent more productive on a daily basis than those who remained seated. Even better?
“Further, productivity of the stand-capable desk users significantly increased over time, from ∼about 23 percent in the 1st month to 53 percent over the next 6 months.” (5)
Standing Desk Precautions
While we know sitting for prolonged periods of time can be damaging and standing desk benefits are real, that doesn’t mean the standup desk is a cure-all by any means. In fact, standing for prolonged periods comes with its own risks and doesn’t necessarily improve health as much as people may think.
For starters, there’s little actual, proven evidence that standing desk benefits are actually due to standing. In fact, utilizing a standup desk has not been 100 percent verified to prevent or reverse the harm of sitting for hours on end.
According to Dr. Jos Verbeek, a health researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, many of the studies out there have conflicting conclusions and more have been too small to be significant or were not randomized and controlled. (6)
Furthermore, research from the Department of Surveillance and Epidemiology at the National Institute of Occupational Health in Denmark found that prolonged standing at work is associated with the development of varicose veins and associated diseases. (7)
Then there’s the fact that, contrary to what you may believe, there’s little evidence that using a standing desk benefits your waistline. According to a study by the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Health and Physical Activity at the Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center, standing for 15 minutes versus sitting for 15 minutes only resulted in burning about two extra calories, and ultimately, “substituting periods of sitting with standing may not affect energy expenditure.” (8)
This means if you’re looking to lose weight and think standing instead of sitting is the means to that end, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise.
Better Alternatives to Standing Desk Benefits?
Now, just because standing may not provide weight loss benefits doesn’t mean you should toss your standing workstation aside. Standing can still be very benefits to your health, and recent research has even revealed what’s believed to be an ideal amount of time to stand in order to get the most standing desk benefits possible.
According to research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, standing at work does benefit health and productivity, and it’s best to stand for two hours dispersed throughout the workday. (9) This way, you aren’t sitting for too long or standing for too long, mitigating the negative effects and optimizing the benefits of rest along with standing desk benefits.
However, there’s an even better way to get the most out of your work day and lose weight. The University of Pittsburgh study mentioned above and published in Journal of Physical Activity & Health found that while standing didn’t necessarily boost energy expenditure compared to sitting, walking instead of sitting or standing did. In fact, walking for 15 minutes or 30 minutes greatly increased energy expenditure, which in turn is beneficial to your health.
This makes sense, of course, since walking to lose weight is proven to work. It’s ultimately about turning around the sedentary lifestyle and getting moving. That’s why it makes sense that standing has added benefits sitting does not, since it promotes movement, and also why walking and moving are superior than standing.
Final Thoughts on Standing Desk Benefits
- Research indicates that Americans spend more than 50 percent of their waking hours sedentary, and we know a sedentary lifestyle is hazardous to our health.
- Since standing promotes a more active lifestyle, standing desk benefits may be able to increase life expectancy, lessen the risk of chronic disease, improve blood sugar and cholesterol levels and boost productivity.
- Experts agree that standing an additional two hours dispersed throughout the workday is ideal to optimize standing desk benefits.
- However, there is little direct evidence that standing in and of itself can prevent or reverse the damage of sitting, and standing does little to promote weight loss compared to sitting.
- The good news is standing combined with walking does have positive effects on weight loss and energy expenditure, which is why walking should be incorporated to your workday as well.
- At the end of the day, the human body was meant to move, so try these exercise hacks to get more physical activity into to your workday and optimize those standing desk benefits to improve overall health.