Are standing desks the secret to promoting greater life expectancy?

As an item of furniture that’s usually found in air traffic control towers, standing desks are gathering attention from researchers in Australia. Staff at Deakin University have begun investigating whether standing at work could prevent cardiovascular disease. While the study’s results suggest that standing desks could make a positive contribution, it’s worth looking a little further before implementing them throughout your office.

Are standing desks good for your health?

The simple (and frustrating) answer to this is ‘yes and no.’ According to the researchers, those who spend an excessive amount of time sitting at a desk increase their risk of disease. Specifically, they’re more likely to develop cardiovascular diseases and Type II diabetes. The researchers also claimed that participants reported enjoying a better quality of life, and that absenteeism in the workplace dipped.

While those claims may make you want to change the furniture in your office, it’s worth looking at their validity. First, the number of people participating in the study was small (230), so it’s difficult to argue they’re a good representative of the population. Based on the study’s abstract it’s also difficult to ascertain whether the results were adjusted for any physical activity the workers were engaging in at home. Other confounding factors could include their diet, diseases that cause weight loss, and other lifestyle factors that could result in weight loss. If we’re going to take a really picky approach here, it’s probably worth considering how Deakin University recruited its participants. If they were voluntary, there’s a significant chance they’re the type of people who are keen to improve their health and lose weight anyway.

While standing while working will burn calories, remaining in a standing position for too long comes with consequences. For example, poor posture can lead to mechanical back pain. Not moving around while standing for long periods increases your risk of DVT. Oh, and you’re more likely to face irritating cramps.

An extensive study from 2015 suggests that standing desks aren’t good for you

Long before Deakin University’s team began their work, Exeter University and University College London analyzed 5000 participants in a similar trial. As if the numbers aren’t impressive enough, they followed the participants for 16 years. Their conclusion was that standing desks aren’t really a disease-busting panacea. Providing you exercise regularly, it doesn’t matter whether you stand or sit during office hours.

It’s probably worth mentioning that researchers at Australia’s Curtin University found that standing for too long at work leads to lower limb discomfort. After the lower limb discomfort comes a serious lack of motivation to exercise. It is, therefore, safe to assume that promoting better workplace comfort and exercise at home is better for weight loss and lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease.

How can employees and employers stay healthy at work?

In conclusion, neither sitting or standing all day is the best way to remain healthy. Both come with their risks, as well as benefits. Taking some time to rise from your desk and have a walk around is certainly handy. Remaining standing every hour of the working day is not. Unless you work at Apple’s head office, the chances are you don’t have access to both sitting and standing desks. If you want to blend the two positions, take small steps towards standing more. For example, stand to read a few emails or walk further for your lunch. But, whatever you do, don’t rush out to buy those standing desks.


About the Author

Laura McKeever
Laura has been a freelance medical writer for eight years. With a BSc in Medical Sciences and an MSc in Physician Assistant Studies, she complements her passion for medical news with real-life experiences. Laura’s most significant experience included writing for international pharmaceutical brands, including GSK.