Standing Desks Sitting Well or Not?

Standing Desks

Standing desks, treadmill desks, balance ball chairs, a pedaling desk – the desire to merge trendy workstation designs with ergonomic comfort to stay productive for hours on end and encourage people to not sit all day long has led to the development of countless alternatives. Standing desks, particularly those that allow people to switch off the height, have increased in popularity, but are the wellness benefits really benefiting users versus traditional sitting arrangements. A new meta-analysis study implies that many of the standing desks available are poorly designed for meaningful results.

While people have worked in offices for decades, lives have become more sedentary. Sitting and typing (or talking) on the phone all day long has been blamed for many ills, from heart disease to carpal tunnel. People have wanted to embrace options that provide more mobility and variety. Advocates claim their standing desks increase their productivity by improving their posture and allow them to get more active during the day. However, researchers found that the benefits are vastly overstated, but they also did not find any harm in making the switch if people are more comfortable.

Published in Cochrane Library’s Database of Systematic Reviews this week, the international research team’s effort involved reviewing 20 previous studies conducted with a combined 2,174 participants in predominantly high-income countries. The various studies looked at physical changes in the workplace, policy changes, interventions about posture and ergonomics, and more. They also included controlled before-and-after studies with control groups. The researchers acknowledge that they did not find any studies that looked at the effect of periodic breaks or things like walking meetings.

The effort studied time spent sitting during each workday, either self-reported or objectively measured. They also looked at the amount of energy expended, number of sitting episodes lasting at least 30 minutes, any data on work productivity and any adverse events.

They did find that a sit-stand desk set-up did reduce sitting time at work by 30 to 120 minutes per day, with or without counseling to prompt the employees to get up. This is far less than the recommended two to four hours of non-sitting. However, they did find evidence that people with standing desks tended to sit less outside of work. However, they also found that people with standing desks may sit less than others, but they do not get significantly more activity per day. The team did not find any conclusive evidence on the effectiveness of treadmill desks or other exercise-oriented set-ups.

While the researchers emphasize that there is low evidence that standing desks have positive long-term wellness effects or have people sitting that much less each day, the fact that they do get people to move even a little bit more is good. Desks that allow for standing, walking on a treadmill, core strengthening balance ball moves, or cycling are positive steps toward getting people up from the sedentary stupor. So is encouraging people to walk-around discussing options on projects or deliberately scheduling meetings at a conference room further down the hall to get people up.

Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss

Cochrane Library: Workplace interventions for reducing sitting at work
Popular Science: There’s Not Much Evidence That Standing Desks Benefit Your Health
Newsweek: Standing Desks Don’t Decrease Sitting Time At Work, Says New Report
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Standing desks’ health claims questioned
MedPage Today: Are Standing Desks a Waste of Money?

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