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Is working at a standing desk more healthy than working at a regular sitting desk?

Over the past couple of years there has been a lot of buzz about the health benefits of standing desks, driven by research that concluded the longer you sit, the shorter your life is (all other things being equal). I don't pay too much attention to research as I know it can be argued and manipulated pretty much any and every which way you want, but as someone who's been working at a desk daily since graduating university in 2004, the notion of being a little more active and vertical during the work day intuitively made sense.

Excessive sitting is slowly killing you. I know. It seems like hyperbole. But it’s not. A study found that men who sit for more than six hours of their leisure time each day had a 20% higher death rate than those who sat for three hours or less. The epidemiologist who conducted the study, Alpha Patel, concluded that excessive sitting literally shortens a person’s life by several years. Another study showed that men who sat for 23 or more hours a week had a 64% greater chance of dying from heart disease than those who sat for 11 hours per week or less.

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When you sit, the electrical activity in your muscles flat lines, and your body uses very little energy. Powering down your body like that for long periods of time leads to a cascade of negative effects. Your heart rate, calorie burn, insulin effectiveness, and levels of good cholesterol all drop. Your body also stops producing lipoprotein lipase and other molecules that are only released when you flex your muscles, such as when you are standing and walking. These molecules play an important role in processing fats and sugars; without them, your metabolism suffers. Add these factors up, and it’s no wonder that those who sit for long periods of time each day have larger waistlines and worse blood sugar and blood pressure profiles and are at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer than who sit less.

Other sources: Mashable, and BusinessWeek.

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May be better off migrating and merging with this question on Personal Productivity: productivity.stackexchange.com/q/2489/54 –  Rory Alsop Nov 8 '12 at 14:29
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@RoryAlsop - Looking over the question that you linked out to it looks like they are asking two different things and approching it from two different direcitons. The Personal Productivity one is looking at the pros/cons of using one and this one wants to know if the claimed heath benifits are even valid in the first place. –  rob Nov 8 '12 at 14:38
    
+1 I also do wonder if standing too long when using the computer can affect one personal health such as those mention above and does it cause stroke when sitting like 6 hours or more per day? –  Jack Nov 9 '12 at 2:26
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1 Answer

Maybe. There is a lack of significant research into the health benefits standing desks. Most research has been focused on reducing sitting time.

First, it should be understood that the standing desk is not a new invention having been around since the 1800s. Furthermore, in the late 1890s there was a fairly significant push for the use of standing desks, or desks that can be used in a standing and sitting configuration in schools. This is currently being examined once again.

With regards to standing desks, there aren't many scientific studies that have looked at them in particular. In fact, a systematic review called out the need for more research into the matter.

Currently, there is a dearth of evidence on the effectiveness of workplace interventions for reducing sitting. In light of the growing body of evidence that prolonged sitting is negatively associated with health, this highlights a gap in the scientific literature that needs to be addressed.

It should be noted though, that reducing sitting time at the office has been called out as a workplace health priority. The reasoning behind the push to reduce workplace sitting (which ties in with demand for standing desks) is that time spent sitting has been tied to higher cancer rates. The research into this connection is well accepted1 and well reported in the general media.

So while there is an increased push for standing desks, and many cites of the research focused around the adverse effects of sitting time, there doesn't seem to be any clear scientific evidence about standing desks per se. However, it seems quite likely that they would have a some positive effects, although those claims haven't been fully examined.


  1. See the bottom of the article for a fairly long list of citations of research.
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protected by Community Aug 25 '13 at 2:51

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