Are Standing Desks Actually Bad For Your Health, Too?

published Mar 6, 2018
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There’s been so much back and forth (or up and down, if you will) over the years about the healthiest, most ergonomic of workplace options — from swapping out your desk chair for an exercise ball to getting rid of seating altogether, a la the latest office craze: The standing desk. But is standing all day actually better for us? One new study says maybe not.

In the journal Ergonomics, a new small-sample study adds to previous research showing that standing for the majority of the day at work may actually be more harmful for your health than sitting. Fans and proponents of standing desks evangelize the more active work station style as a way to alleviate some of the long-accepted long-term health risks of sitting at a desk all day — like obesity, high blood pressure and sugar, back pain, cardiovascular and cholesterol problems, and an increased risk of early death overall, according to the Mayo Clinic (which itself even suggested trying a standing desk).

But, this new study points to alternative and possibly just as risky health factors from standing all day, such as decreased mental and muscle reactivity, decreased productivity, swollen veins and other vascular issues — like one would see in other professions where workers are on their feet all day (nurses, chefs, and waitstaff, to name just three) — and more of the back pain that standing desks were supposedly designed to eliminate.

(Image credit: Ellie Arciaga Lillstrom)

“The bottom line is that this expansion [of standing desks] has been driven more by commercial reasons than scientific evidence,” said Alan Taylor, a physiotherapy expert at Nottingham University, in an interview with The Washington Post. “But the evidence is catching up and it’s showing there are some drawbacks.”

Instead of swapping sitting for standing while you work, avoid the “all or nothing” mentality so common in health and fitness, says Jessica Matthews, assistant professor of exercise science at Miramar College in San Diego, in this Prevention guide to the benefits and drawbacks of replacing your office chair with an exercise ball.

Experts, like the scientists and researchers at Ergonomics at Work, agree that the best course of action is actually taking lots of breaks from sitting, including short walks, or embracing convertible desks that allow you to sit, stand, repeat throughout the day.

“The bottom line is that this expansion [of standing desks] has been driven more by commercial reasons than scientific evidence,” physiotherapist Taylor told The Post.