If you walk into the office of a company focused on employee health, you will probably see at least one standing desk, and it may be a makeshift one. The Wellable office even has a shared standing desk that sees regular use.
Numerous studies show that too much sitting increases heart failure and disability risk as well as shortens life expectancy. As a result, it is natural for individuals to want to decrease the amount of time they spend sitting, and standing desks are a great way for most people to cut out excessive sitting time. However, according to an analysis of 20 unique studies done so far, there’s little evidence that workplace interventions like standing desks or even pedaling or treadmill desks will help individuals burn lots more calories or prevent or reverse the harm of sitting for hours on end. According to the lead researcher, Dr. Jos Verbeek, “What we actually found is that most of it is, very much, just fashionable and not proven good for your health.”
Verbeek also said that the studies he and his co-authors analyzed came to conflicting conclusions about whether sit-stand desks reduce sitting time. Even the best research available wasn’t great. The studies were either too small to be significant or were poorly designed. For example, most were not randomized controlled trials, and the longest study followed participants for only six months.
The researchers went as far as to say that there isn’t really any evidence that standing is better than sitting. The extra calories one burns from standing over sitting for a day are minimal (barely enough to cover a couple of banana chips). “The idea you should be standing four hours a day? There’s no real evidence for that,” Verbeek says. “I would say that there’s evidence that standing can be bad for your health.” A 2005 study in Denmark showed prolonged standing at work led to a higher hospitalization risk for enlarged veins.
It is important to note that this study of studies doesn’t mean that standing desks and variations are useless. It just means there hasn’t been enough research to suggest that they are effective. Since employer budgets are limited, it probably makes sense to limit spending on unproven solutions. Also, part of the limited effectiveness is due to low usage. Employers would be wise to explore employee interest prior to purchasing these desks and/or use shared desk options so the number of desks matches demand.
Don’t forget that employees should know about proper standing desk form prior to regular standing desk use!