Standing Desk

Standing Desks

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

9 thoughts on “Standing Desks”

  1. There is nothing wrong with standing desks just as there is nothing wrong with chairs, cars and computers; it is how they are used that is important. If we obsess about unidimensional issues out of context we are doing a disservice to the profession of ergonomics. We should always consider the big picture of interactions among space, force, time, information, esthetics, operational and physical context, and human variability before we start adding the “ergonomic” label. That said, as we can only adjust, by design, individual variables, we should not use the adjective “ergonomic”; rather we should focus on the process of ergonomics and produce advice and reports that include (sufficient) context.

    1. I agree. I have a standing desk and use it. Nothing wrong with it, but I wouldn’t like it if I couldn’t adjust it and sit at it sometimes too.

      You are wise to point out that is about so much more than standing desks. This belongs in a whole context of: “What makes a good job?” I imagine many workers thinking, “Standing won’t do my health much good, if the stress is killing me.”

      1. I definitely agree with you on the point that we should find a balance between sitting and standing. Rather than simply using a standing desk that is fixed, a standing desk that can be adjustable to sitting level would be imperative to one’s posture. Even though there are tips, do’s and don’ts of sitting and how to sit properly, we are not robots and cannot stay still for more than a couple of seconds (even breathing requires us to move our bodies). The apparatuses in which assist us in our activities should be flexible like us.

  2. We humans tend to believe anything old is bad and a “new” idea will provide the true answer.

    Occupational therapists and most, if not all, ergonomists know that it is variety of motion interspersed with rest that makes for the healthiest condition. As with most behavior, moderation is the key. Knowing the proper balance for each person is critical. Regardless, we keep developing new equipment in an unending quest to provide the perfect and healthiest condition.

    The old equipment or habit is generally discarded in the process. It is that narcissistic behavior that demonstrates we know (absolutely believe) we are smarter than the last person. Very sophomoric.

    1. I completely agree, Kirk. I’d be worried some manager (who probably put all his office workers on sitting balls last year) will now adopt the standing desk. In a bold move, he will get rid of all the chairs – for his employees own good health. He’ll even get a standing desk himself, for a few weeks…. his chair will be back.

  3. Sitting all day isn’t good for you, but neither is standing in one place all day. Standing stationary is uncomfortable. Anyone who doesn’t believe that should just try it. A good job is one where there is variety, some standing, some walking, and some sitting.

  4. The apparent flex desks are rather limited to shorter individuals, unless its somthing compared to the Ergotron system used advantagiously by the government. Standing systems do and are limited to their function and usefulness. My experiences in the field would be proposing intervention type desks as NextDesks. Flex from kneeling to taller individuals needs.

  5. This is a great example of why there is no such thing as an “ergonomic” chair or any other product. There is an ergonomically designed system that includes the materials, the process, the person, the training, and the management. It is possible for the result to be ergonomic even if you screw up one of these if you hit solid singles on the others. But you certainly can’t focus on just one.

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