The Truth Behind Standing Desks & How They Are “Better”

Last Updated on by Pedram Sadough Moghanlu

Recently, there has been a surge in publications that authoritatively “exposed” the dangers of sitting.

In fact, a new catch phrase was coined – “Sitting is the new smoking” – where even the very best office chairs were compared to cigarettes.

As you would expect, all the dangers associated with sitting were readily listed.

These included increased risk of obesity, increased risk of heart related diseases, increased blood pressure and many more scary health conditions.

Truth be said, it has been proven without an iota of doubt that prolonged sitting is very harmful to any human.

This much we can all agree on and it is on this that we will build our discussion.

What’s the use of pointing out a problem without offering a solution?

Useless of course!

Thankfully, solutions were proffered so we will now look at those.

 

The Solution They Offered

Universal applicability of standing at workplace is, to put it mildly, exaggerated and needs to be taken with caution.

Once a problem has been pointed out, the next thing to look for is the solution.

Sitting is bad, that much we have covered.

So what do we do if we shouldn’t sit?

The solution offered – STAND!

We now have experts emerging from every woodwork around the world, selling the gospel of standing desks.

Some say:

Stand for at least four hours every day at work.

Others tell us to alternate between standing and sitting.

Offices are now encouraged to get standing desks or better still sit-stand desks that allow their staff to alternate between sitting and standing.

Interestingly, this has opened up a whole new market for the sale of standing and sit-stand desks.

A solution is not a solution unless it is proven to be effective.

So the rational question to ask is this….

 

…Does It Really Work?

Another study goes to show how sit-stand desks were not sufficient to improve markers of cardiometabolic risk.

Yes, does it really work?

Does standing automatically take care of all the challenges and health issues associated with prolonged sitting?

No, it doesn’t!

Yes you read right.

It has not and cannot solve all the problems listed.

There are of course benefits to using standing desks but on its own and by itself, it cannot solve the myriad of problems caused by prolonged sitting.

But the problem was caused by sitting so standing should counter its effects….

Sadly, that’s not the case and to give you a clearer picture, we will look at some medical studies.

At least those should be more convincing than mere speculations.

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Study #1:

“The Effect of Using Sit-Stand Desks To Reduce Workplace Sitting Time In Office Workers with Abdominal Obesity”

A study was carried out by MacEwen BT, Saunders TJ, MacDonald DJ, and Burr JF to look at the effect of using sit-stand desks to reduce workplace sitting time among high risk office workers.

They chose 25 randomly selected workers with abdominal obesity and placed them in two groups.

Group one was the control group while the other was the intervention group.

Those in the control group worked on regular sitting desks for a 12 week period while those in the intervention group work on sit-stand desks over the same period.

 

Conclusion

The conclusion was that the sit-stand desk did indeed improve their physical activity while at work but had no effect on their physical activity outside of work.

Though there were general improvements, this was not enough to reduce their cardiometabolic risk.

To put it simply, they were still at risk of having heart related issues even with their use of sit-stand desks…

Let’s look at another study.

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Study#2:

“The Effects of Standing Desks on Task Performance and Engagement”

We know that one of the benefits of using standing desks as has been sold to us is increased efficiency at work.

Let’s see what this study has to say about it…

Finch LE, Tomiyama AJ, and Ward A in this study got 96 participants to perform a reading, comprehension and creativity exercise while sitting and while standing.

 

Conclusion

While some benefits of using standing desks were again noticed, the conclusion of the study stated that overall, the psychological and performance experience as it had to do with task completion was largely the same in both cases.

Really? Yes, really!

 

What are we saying here?

Are we discouraging the use of standing desks?

Certainly not!

In fact, this next study should answer that question.

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Study #3:

“Effect of alternating standing and sitting on blood pressure and pulse wave velocity during a simulated workday in adults with overweight/obesity”

Overweight and obese adults who had been diagnosed with pre-stage 1 hypertension were chosen for this study.
They were exposed to two simulated workday conditions.
In one case, they sat all through and in the other case they alternated between sitting and standing, changing every 30 minutes.

At the end of the study, the following conclusion was reached.

 

Conclusion

The positive effect of alternating between sitting and standing was noted as being moderate.

The study however suggested that regular practice of this could be a viable way of lowering blood pressure.

Our major issue here is not in the benefits of using a standing desk but the seeming effort to present it as an all-encompassing solution.

This raises some questions:

Is this motivated by profit?

Here is the final study that looks into that matter…

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Study #4:

“Overselling Sit-Stand Desks: News Coverage of Workplace Sitting Guidelines”

This study by Chau JY, McGill B, Freeman B, Bonfiglioli C, and Bauman A shows that there might be a deliberate attempt by media to sell half-truths on this matter.

Half-truths can be just as bad as total falsehoods.

In fact, in some case, it can be worse.

Here is a fresh research done on the subject of the news coverage regarding workplace related guidelines…

And you can see its concluding quote in the block on the right.

 

 

 

 

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A Quick Thought

Today everyone is talking about standing desks or sit-stand desks as a solution to our sedentary lifestyle and some people are making a killing from it, validating the fact that it might all be a hype just to boost sales.

The next question every right thinking person should be asking now is….

 

What Should I Do Instead?

Do you need to throw away your standing desk?

No!

Do you need to forget about getting a standing desk and simply enjoy your sitting desk?

No!

What should I do then?

It is important to understand why sitting has been so demonized recently.

As you can see, the effects of standing on calorie burning are also very modest. Perhaps, drinking a cold glass of water while sitting, would produce similar results from the caloric expenditure view point.

It is not necessary for the sitting itself but what it represents.

When a person is seated, most parts of the body including some body functions rest.

Is that a bad thing you may ask?

Rest in itself is not a bad thing.

The question is how long do you need to rest your body?

If you are resting at work, resting at home and resting when you sleep, you are practically resting all your life.

The solution therefore it to find a way to reduce to the barest minimum these rest times.

Get a pen and paper and write this down because it is very important.

Better still make it your screen saver:

THERE ARE NO SHORT CUTS TO HEALTHY LIVING!

That was a free word of advice.

When it comes to your health, run from anything that presents itself as a short cut.

This is exactly what smart marketers are now presenting standing desks as.

Now to finally answer the question of what you should rather do; nothing will take the place of the following.

 

Eating Healthy and Staying Active

The food you eat is the fuel your body needs to function.

You need to give your body the right kind of fuel.

Pouring junk into your body and expecting your body to perform excellently is at best wishful thinking.

The next is staying active and this is where the standing desk issue finds its foundation.

There is a need to stay active at work and at home.

Even if you use a sitting desk, make sure you stay active even while seated, take constant breaks to walk around and stretch.

The more active you are the better.

If you use a standing desk, note that it is also not healthy for you to stand all day.

That can cause its own problems.

And by the way, the fact that you are standing does not mean you are active.

While using your standing desk, you also need to stretch from time to time, walk around and wait for it…… SIT sometimes.

Yes, sit sometimes.

Sitting is not bad.

What is bad is prolonged sitting.

 

Conclusion

So there you have it.

Eat well and eat healthy and then stay active whether on your sitting desk or your standing one.

There is no alternative to this.

Do not subscribe to any products offering a short cut to healthy living.

If you want to stay healthy, you have to work at it.

 

Bibliography

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28513245
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28825655
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28704258

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