Benefits of Movement

If you believed everything you read, you might think a standing desk could solve world peace, let alone sort your posture out.

So what does the science really say about the health benefits of a standing desk?

Prolonged sitting is bad

“There is increasing evidence that, unless you are a wheelchair user, sitting down too much can be a risk to your health,” says the NHS. Prolonged sitting, it continues, affects the body's ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat.

There’s also evidence to suggest that sitting still for too long can affect mental health.

Exactly how much sitting is too much is less clear. Some countries suggest limiting sitting to one or two hours a day. If you have a relatively sedentary job, you’re probably sitting for much, much longer than that.

Prolonged standing isn’t great either

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety notes that standing for long periods can also cause “sore feet, swelling of the legs, varicose veins, general muscular fatigue, low back pain, stiffness in the neck and shoulders, and other health problems.”

The point of a height adjustable standing desk is not that you spend the rest of your working life stood up. The health benefits of a sit/stand desk come from being able to switch between the two positions.

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Health benefits of standing desks

1. Having a standing desk makes you more likely to move
According to a University of Iowa study, employees stand for 60 minutes longer a day when they have a sit-stand desk compared to their co-workers with sitting desks. That’s a permanent gain, not just while the desk remains a novelty.

2. Reduce fatigue and muscle pain
This study found transitioning between sitting and standing every 30 minutes during the working day “led to a significant reduction in fatigue levels and lower back discomfort… while maintaining work productivity”.

A separate study found having a height adjustable desk led to less self-reported muscle pain and more self-reported energy.

3. Reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and diabetes
This study found moving between sitting and standing led to improved capillary blood glucose monitoring results, reducing the risk of cardiometabolic diseases.

4. Feel better
Being able to switch between standing and sitting improves job performance, work engagement, occupational fatigue, presenteeism (that is, being at work but not fully functioning), daily anxiety and quality of life, a 2018 trial published in the BMJ found.

5. Burn (a few) more calories
Switching to a standing desk won’t transform your weight loss programme. But it will help a little, and small benefits are better than no benefits.

What won’t a standing desk do?
The evidence is less clear (or downright contradictory) when it comes to improving sick absence or boosting cognitive function. More research is needed in these areas.

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