Are Standing Desks Really Worth It?

There’s this belief that prolonged sitting can kill. This and related headlines have featured in excess on news sites for the past few years. Since a majority of individuals today spend most of their time sitting at work, employees and employers are starting to turn things around by employing sit-stand desks as a way of lessening sedentary behavior and limiting the health-related risks. However, there are people who are still reluctant of its effectiveness.

On average, Americans spend up to 13 hours a day sitting, with more than half of it spent sitting at work. These numbers are unlikely to surprise the corporate community who work at a desk or in front of computers all day.

In January 2015, MNT reported on a study that suggested excessive sitting can add to the risk of heart disease and cancer. Another surprise to this is that the risks are present regardless of whether one exercises on a regular basis.

Moreover, a recent study further cemented the connection between prolonged sitting and poor health, which suggests that sitting for more than 3 hours a day is responsible for over 400-thousand deaths.

Now, here come sit-stand desks that can possibly be the answer to the problem. Sit-stand desks are simply desks that accommodate numerous adjustments that allow employees to work while standing up or sitting down.

This idea has been around for a while now, with workstations dating back centuries ago, it is believed that even Da Vinci himself used a standing desk while painting some of his famous works. On the other hand, Thomas Jefferson is believed to have pioneered the first height-adjustable desk.

In recent years, standing workstations have emerged in popularity due to an increased focus on the downsides of prolonged sitting.

Studies suggest that sit-stand desk can greatly increase an individual’s level of productivity. Earlier this year reported research discovered that standing desk improved the cognitive function of students.

Meanwhile, the potential health risks of prolonged sitting are documented well. These include the possibilities of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and preterm death. So this begs the question of sit-stand desks being the answer to prevent developing such conditions.

Unfortunately, this is not something a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ can answer. There are still conflicting factors that in force.

A 2013 study found that, compared with employees who used traditional desks, those who used standing desks experienced increased calorie expenditure, burning an additional 174 calories on average over an entire afternoon of standing. Furthermore, in 2015, a study by researchers suggested that replacing 2 hours of sitting with standing each day may lead to metabolic benefits in the long run.

It goes without saying that the health improvements are more likely to be associated with active motions than sedentary, but simply standing in front of a desk is not the most strenuous task. So how does this result in supplementary health benefits?

Fact says that more calories are burned when standing because it increases heart rate. However, a number of professionals say that the calorie burn is not sufficient enough to be considered beneficial.

What is more, long periods of standing can be harmful, especially for overweight individuals. It can increase strain on the back and joints, as well as increase the risk of varicose veins, deep vein thrombosis, and a large sum of cardiovascular problems.

This then raises the question: if both sitting and standing for long periods can lead to harmful health conditions, what can be done to reduce such risks?

The simple answer is movement. Standing at a desk is less likely to counteract the harms of sitting, but moving while doing so could help. Simply shifting weight from one foot to another and stretching can be good for what ails you.

It is also of paramount importance to shift between sitting and standing throughout the working day. A professor in the Department of Design and Environment at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, Alan Hedge explained:

“If what you’re doing is replacing sitting with standing, you’re not actually doing your body any favors. In fact, you’re introducing a whole variety of new risk factors.

If you go from sitting to standing and vice versa, frequently throughout the day, that completely eradicates any of the supposed risk factors associated with sitting, or indeed with standing.”

While the aforementioned issues continue, it all boils down to balance. As long as employees and individuals use the workstation correctly, regularly alternating between standing and sitting, a sit-stand desk still sticks up to its reputation as a valuable addition to any office.