Are Standing Desks Good for You?

Sitting has become so ingrained in life that you probably don’t even think about how long you do it in a day. Reports vary, but research from the CDC suggests that about one in four adult Americans sit for over eight hours a day. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking a load off, sitting may present greater dangers to your health than you realize, especially given the everyday stresses of working in the average American workplace.

The solution: standing workstations. These allow you to stay upright and break up your constant sitting, but are standing desks good for you? Read on to learn more about standing desks and how they can benefit your health.

The Dangers of Sitting

Sitting down allows you to use less energy than when you stand, walk, or otherwise move while taking the pressure off your legs. That’s the whole point. Unfortunately, sitting for extended periods of time has been linked to a whole host of health issues. The detrimental health effects of prolonged sitting have even been compared to smoking.

Burns Fewer Calories

It’s no surprise that sitting burns fewer calories than most any other type of actual activity. However, even when you are not exercising or performing any sort of physical activity, your body still burns calories doing all of the background things necessary to keep you alive (like breathing and pumping your blood). This calorie burn is known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis. Sitting and lying down significantly limit the number of calories burned via non-exercise activity thermogenesis, which can contribute to weight gain.

Increased Mortality Factors

Systematic reviews also suggest that sitting for long periods may contribute to your death. Studies have found a link between extended sitting behaviors and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. More alarming is the suggestion that extended sitting time may increase the risk of all-cause mortality by 49 percent.

Effects on Mental Health

While the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, research shows that increasingly sedentary lifestyles have been found to contribute to risk factors such as depression, psychological distress, and general mood disorders. 

How Standing Desks Can Help?

A standing desk can break up the monotony of sitting and provide some potential health benefits in the process.

Standing Burns More Calories

Standing naturally burns more calories than sitting, though the exact number of calories is debated from study to study. One study suggests that standing for 185 minutes burns 174 more calories than the equivalent time spent sitting down. Granted, standing for over three straight hours isn’t recommended for anyone.

In another study from the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, researchers evaluated the caloric burn of subjects who were working on the computer, watching TV, standing, or walking on a treadmill. The subjects who were sitting burned about 80 calories per hour, while those who stood burned about 88 calories per hour. That’s not exactly a mind-blowing number, especially when taking into account that the subjects who were walking burned about 210 calories per hour.

Still, standing does burn more calories, though that amount can vary from person to person based on their metabolism health. While you shouldn’t expect a standing desk to drastically reduce your waistline, the caloric burn can add up to help you maintain your health.

Maintaining Healthy Blood Sugar Levels

Blood sugar naturally goes up after a meal, but sudden jumps or spikes in your blood sugar can be bad for your health, especially if you have insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, or forms of prediabetes. Blood sugar levels that fluctuate too widely can also contribute to feeling tired and cravings for sweets and junk food.

However, standing can help to regulate your blood sugar levels, keeping them steadier throughout the day. One study found that alternating between sitting and standing every 30 minutes reduced blood glucose levels by an average of 11.1 percent.

Improved Mood and Energy

As mentioned, extended sedentary time is associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety. In a seven-week study, subjects who used standing desks reported experiencing less fatigue and stress than those who sat during the workday. Furthermore, about 87 percent of those who used standing desks also experienced greater energy and vigor throughout the day. Returning to their sitting desks, the standing desk users reported reverting to their original mood levels.

Increased Productivity

Anecdotal evidence suggests that adjustable standing desks can help with work productivity, but studies are fairly mixed. Most studies suggest that, at best, standing will not be detrimental to your work. However, considering the positive effects on mood and energy, standing desks could potentially keep your productivity levels up as well.

How to Use a Standing Desk?

With all those benefits, you might be tempted to use a standing desk and never sit again. While sitting for long periods has its downsides, standing for too long has its risk factors  too. Most prominently, standing for a long time puts all your weight on your lower body. That’s a lot of pressure on your feet, legs, hips, and back. That means:

  • Aches and pains
  • Swollen legs and feet
  • General fatigue
  • Stiffness in the neck and shoulders
  • Lower back pain
  • Varicose veins

In a study, 50 percent of subjects asked to stand for two consecutive hours developed lower back pain despite no previous cases of back pain.

The main key to using a standing desk is to alternate between sitting and standing. The exact ratio between the two is still not fully understood. So, How Long Should You Stand At Your Standing Desk? Experts previously suggested standing for 15 minutes for every hour of sitting, but now, most experts recommend an ideal ratio of between 1:1 and 1:3. At most, that equates to about 45 minutes of standing every hour.

It’s important to understand that everyone is different, and everyone has their own personal abilities. Knowing your standing sweet spot can take some trial and error.

If you want to try sit- stand workstations, make sure you have the right equipment. This includes:

  • Standing desk converters make it easy to alternate between standing and sitting. Just make sure you understand how high a standing desk should be
  • An anti-fatigue mat, which takes some pressure off your legs and makes standing much more comfortable
  • Adjustable mounts that allow you to properly position computer monitors and reduce any potential strain in your neck, shoulders, and eyes

Are standing desks good for you? Generally, yes. However, it’s important to understand that sitting itself may have its issues, but many of the problems come from the common correlation between long periods of sitting and extensively sedentary lifestyles. While some studies vary, maintaining about 60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity per day has been found to counter the effects of too much sitting.

If you work in an office job or otherwise think you sit too much, you should absolutely consider a standing desk, but you should also consider incorporating more exercise and a healthier diet you’re your life outside of your workday.

Sources: