The companies that make standing desks say they provide all kinds of health benefits, such as reduced back pain, weight loss, lower blood sugar and cholesterol, better mental health, and even longer life. But how real are these claims? Let’s take a look at the popularity of standing desks and whether they’re as great as the manufacturers claim.
The Reality of Standing Desks
Standing desks allow you to avoid sitting in chairs while doing your work. We know prolonged periods of sitting are detrimental to our health. One study suggested an hour a day of physical activity to burn off all the negative effects of our sedentary lifestyles. Standing desks were the remedy, according to the popular press, and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) even named the standing desk as a top benefit offered by employers.
Adjustable standing desks are not cheap; they range in price from a few hundred dollars to over $1,000. Sales of these new office tools soared over the past few years. But do you really improve your chances of living longer by standing up while working?
Harvard covered the results from a peer-reviewed journal a few years ago and found that it’s likely the claims of standing desk makers are a little bit—inflated. Research from the Journal of Physical Activity and Health looked at this issue.
The study took 74 healthy test subjects and measure their oxygen consumption correlated to how many calories burned while working on the computer, watching TV, walking on a treadmill, and standing. They found:
- The subjects burned 80 calories per hour sitting, which is about the same as if they were watching TV or typing.
- If they stood up and undertook these activities the number of calories was slightly higher, at 88 per hour burned.
- Walking more than doubled the calories burned, at 210 per hour.
Extrapolating this data to real–life tells us that using a standing desk for three hours burns about 24 more calories than sitting down to accomplish the same tasks. However, you can take a half–hour walk at lunch and burn off an extra 100 calories each day.
That doesn’t mean the standing desk is a bad thing. Harvard Health Publishing suggests that standing over sitting may reduce back pain. Given that long hours of sitting can contribute to everything from cancer to cardiovascular illness, diabetes, and obesity, it’s possible to logically assume that standing will lessen your chances of being plagued with these side effects.
But not sitting could also mean doing a conference call with a headset while pacing around a building. The American Cancer Society points out that “Sitting time research is still in its infancy, and we are trying to understand whether it’s the total amount that you sit or how frequently you break up those bouts of sitting that are related to disease risk.”
That’s a good point; while we don’t know if standing desks really have all the health benefits manufacturer’s claim, it’s a good idea to mix up your day. Try a standing desk but then move to sitting to break up the strain on your legs and back. Then take a walk after lunch to really give your health a boost.
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