Sitting down is killing you, in more than one way. Study after study has shown how bad sitting down is, and yet the vast majority of the developed world still spends most of their time sitting down. As a result, a new trend was picking up – standing desks. It seems to make a lot of sense, but a new study casts the benefits of standing desks into doubt.
“What we actually found is that most of it is, very much, just fashionable and not proven good for your health,” says Dr. Jos Verbeek, a health researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, who conducted the study.
Standing desks became fashionable fast. Even we tried them at one of our offices, though to little avail (we simply didn’t like it, to be honest). But the science has yet to back them up. The quality of evidence was very low to low, with poorly designed studies and very few participants – that’s just one of the conclusions of a paper, published last week in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.
“At present there is very low to low quality evidence that sit-stand desks may decrease workplace sitting between thirty minutes to two hours per day without having adverse effects at the short or medium term. There is no evidence on the effects in the long term,” the study reads.
They found that on average, sit-stand desks alone decreased workplace sitting with about half an hour to two hours per day. However, this didn’t seem to have any noticeable effect on mortality rate and overall health. Instead, they found that other, more conventional methods like going for a jog are far more effective. This isn’t to say that standing desks don’t help, just that at the moment, there is no scientific information to back that up.
“There is a need for cluster-randomised trials with a sufficient sample size and long term follow-up to determine the effectiveness of different types of interventions to reduce objectively measured sitting time at work,” the researchers write.
The findings are consistent with another review published last year. Then, researchers concluded that both standing desks and treadmills may offer health benefits, but there is simply not enough good science on the topic – although both methods somewhat reduce productivity.
“However, at present there still exist substantial gaps in the research to fully comprehend the utility of each type of desk to promote health. Therefore additional research is necessary in order to determine the appropriateness of these desks with respect to enhancing health benefits by reducing sedentary time.”
In the meantime, you’d be much better off stretching every half an hour and talking a walk every couple of hours.
Alexandra is a naturalist who is firmly in love with our planet and the environment. When she's not writing about climate or animal rights, you can usually find her doing field research or reading the latest nutritional studies.