Standing desks seem to be one of those movements that have developed an irresistible momentum. No data needed. They instinctively resonate as a good idea. A no brainer. Why would we need any research to back it up? Sedentary lifestyles are killing us, causing obesity, diabetes, back pain . . . so standing must be better.
If it wasn’t already clear through common sense, it’s become painfully clear through science that sitting all day is terrible for your health. What’s especially alarming about this evidence is that extra physical activity doesn’t seem to offset the costs of what researchers call “prolonged sedentary time.” Just as jogging and tomato juice don’t make up for a night of smoking and drinking, a little evening exercise doesn’t erase the physical damage done by a full work day at your desk.
Well, there is finally some evidence, although not much. I thought I would help you get ahead of the curve by summarizing the one meta-analysis on the subject that I have seen, thankfully recapped on Fast Company.
The meta-analysis looked at both standing desks and treadmill desks. They looked at physical, psychomotor, cognitive, and emotional effects. Unfortunately, there are only a couple of research studies in each area, so the results are generally less than statistically significant. But the trends are suggestive. Here is a quick summary:
- Physical effects include small increases in heart rate and good cholesterol, and a few pounds of weight loss. But in short term studies so whether these would last is unresolved.
- Psychomotor effects suggest that standing doesn’t hurt measures such as typing speed and mousing, but doesn’t improve it either.
- Cognitive effects also show no distraction from the standing (or walking), but no benefit either.
- Emotional: these were only measured through self-reports, so the validity is highly questionable. But users of standing and treadmill desks reported less fatigue, tension, confusion and more energy, focus, and happiness. All very imprecise variables to say the least.
So the overall findings of the latest science available on standing desks is that we really have no idea. So with that in mind, let me recommend the momentum-based self-delusionary method of deciding. I highly recommend this humor piece from the New Yorker, thankfully shared by our own Lynn Strother at HFES HQ.
Image Credit: Kiran Jonnalagadda