Are Standing Desks Really Beneficial?

Sitting may seem like a passive, chilled out thing to do, but science says that's one where reality is far worse than perception. Mayo Clinic says there is a laundry list of health issues that are associated with sitting for long periods of time, and these include conditions associated with obesity and heart disease... from high blood pressure and higher sugar levels to more extra body fat around the middle.

Since we pay for the conveniences associated with an urban lifestyle by working in an office, it seems we're doomed to sitting eight hours a day or longer — unless we try standing at our desks instead.

Standing desks first became an option a few years back, and since that time it's become a "thing" in some workplaces. Standing desks can be custom built and can set you back, but you can turn a sitting desk into a standing one with a few modifications, like raising your computer by using modular Ikea tables or using a high piece of furniture like a dresser if you're working from home (via Lifehacker).

What science says about a standing desk

But are standing desks necessarily good for you? The jury may still be out on that, says Robert Shmerling, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. In a blog published by Harvard Health, Shmerling says that while he loves the idea of using a standing desk, he also questions the assumed benefits that these desks bring. 

One assumption he questions is how many calories a person may burn by standing upright instead of sitting and whether a standing desk might help a person lose or gain weight. Schmerling notes that in a study published by the Journal of Physical Activity and Health the average number of calories burned when a person is sitting (80 calories) and when that same person is standing (88 calories) is not very significant.

Because sitting for long periods of time is associated with illnesses that include heart disease and obesity, Shmerling says we then assume that a standing desk diminishes these risks. But he also warns that there have been no rigorous tests which have been performed on the benefits of using a standing desk, so the jury is out on how beneficial these desks might actually be.

Standing for long periods can cause other problems

That your body will benefit from standing instead of sitting for long periods of time is a given. But Shmerling also warns that possible side effects may arise when you stand for long periods of time, as you open yourself to the possibility of developing back, leg, or foot pains. 

Tasks which require fine motor skills are also best carried out when you're sitting down, so it may not be time to dump your sitting desk just yet. If you haven't made the investment and paid for a standing desk yet, you can try exercises while you sit there and work at your desk. Also, don't forget that the American Cancer Society suggests taking short, frequent walking breaks between long periods of sitting first — because that's a fix that most health experts can agree on, and which won't break the bank.