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Do standing desks improve your health ?

Updated: Mar 19

Do standing desks improve your health ?
Do standing desks improve your health ?

We've taken a slightly different approach to this question. We've taken the best research available and added anecdotal evidence that we have gleaned from the 10 years we have worked in the ergonomic sector with over 200 corporate customers mostly in Wellington, New Zealand.

Some of the anecdotal evidence supports the research and some would appear not to. The aim is to help you get a clearer picture of the health benefits you can expect from standing at work.

  1. Standing lowers your risk of weight gain and obesity. The main research cited to support this conclusion is research gained from a study that compared how many calories were burned by a test group over an afternoon of work. It compared a group who sat all afternoon and one that stood all afternoon. Other movement around the office was excluded as a potential differentiator. The control group that was standing was observed to burn 170 calories each afternoon in excess of what the group that was sitting burnt. This amounts to over a 1,000 calories a week. The 170 calories is the equivalent of 20 minutes of moderate exercise a day in calories burnt and extrapolated out that becomes 100 minutes of moderate exercise over a 5 day working week. This is a considerable amount and would seem to lend weight to the theory that standing has a big impact on weight and obesity in sedentary jobs.

  2. Using a standing desk may lower blood sugar levels. Generally speaking, the more your blood sugar levels increase after meals, the worse it is for your health. This is especially true for those with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes. In a small study of 10 office workers, standing for 180 minutes after lunch reduced the blood sugar spike by 43% compared to sitting for the same amount of time The harmful effects of sitting after meals could help explain why excessive sedentary time is linked to a whopping 112% greater risk of type 2 diabetes.

  3. Standing may lower your risk of heart disease. In the 1960's a study found that bus conductors who stood all day had half the risk of heart disease-related deaths as their colleagues in the driver’s seats but since then a considerable amount of research has been done that would support this. The problem with this research is that the increase in sitting whilst outside the workplace has been huge and has perhaps clouded the picture. The question being "how much of the health problems are caused by sitting watching Netflix for 8 hours as opposed to sitting at work?". However it would seem to be fair to conclude that the more time you spend sitting, the greater your risk of developing heart disease. An interesting aside is that recent research suggests that 1/2 an hour a day of intense exercise will not undo the damage caused by excessive sitting.

  4. Standing desks appear to reduce back pain We're not sure about this one. We know that office workers throughout New Zealand complain incessantly about back pain. And we are pretty confident that sitting has a major role in causing this back pain. However we aren't convinced that a standing desk will improve back pain as such. Let's turn it around and frame it differently. If you use a standing desk you are less likely to develop severe back pain ? This study from Minneapolis is very specific though. It concludes that the group undertaking the study reported a 54% improvement in neck and back pain virtually immediately after transitioning to standing from sitting. In addition they reported that the pain returned when they went back to sitting.

  5. Standing desks help improve mood and energy levels There is a wealth of available data linking excessive sitting with mental health issues but most of the research specific to sitting and standing in the workplace compares either sitting all day with standing all day. We believe that the gains are made from regular transitioning from sitting to standing (and back). Every time you stand you are activating your muscles and blood flow and the same is with the reverse. The more you do it - the better. However, very little of the available research looks at this benefit. Anecdotally, virtually ALL customers of ours who implement a routine of regularly changing from sitting to standing during their work day report improved mood and energy levels.

  6. Standing desks may boost productivity A common concern about standing desks is that they hinder daily tasks, such as typing. While standing each afternoon may take some getting used to, standing desks appear to have no significant impact on typical work tasks. This study looked at the impact of standing desks on typing speed and accuracy but of course work is much more than just typing (hopefully). Many of our customers have a common path to using ergonomic furniture and in particular standing desks. It is that - the boss has tried and and she wants her staff to realise the productivity improvements that she has. Wherever the boss has tried it first - the productivity argument isn't necessary. They know by experience what the impact is.

  7. Standing desks may help you live longer Less work may help you live longer as well :-) I'm struggling with this conclusion. I mean standing desks have been in the mainstream for around 15 years. Don't we have to wait to see when people are going to die before we draw this conclusion ? And it would seem to require some serious data collection tracking who has been sitting and who is dying early. Anyway here is the link - draw your own conclusions. Conclusion There are benefits that we think are real but have no major research to support them. One is the impact of small exercises such as squatting at your desk or using standing to stretch. We think the impact of these are huge but the industry is too young to have any major studies made. We always argue that a standing desk is a tool you can use to improve your health but the extent to which you achieve that is really down to the individual. FAQ

Does using a standing desk improve your health ?

There would seem to be some pretty overwhelming evidence that a standing desk will improve your health (see above). But it is perhaps worth remembering two points.

A standing desk , in itself, will not do the job just as buying a hammer will not renovate that bathroom of yours. It has to be used and it has to be used regularly.

Secondly, there is also a great deal of evidence to suggest that it is sitting for long periods of time that is adversely affecting peoples health. If we were doing less sitting and more "movement" we would see huge benefits. Standing is not the only alternative to sitting. There is squatting, kneeling, twisting or lifting.

How do you measure productivity increases from standing desks ?

There are many types of back and neck pain. How can standing desks help all the different types of back and neck pain ?


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