Standing desks might not actually make you healthier

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We've all heard that sitting is the new cancer, but a new study shows that standing desks might not be enough to save you.

A team from Cochrane, a group of researchers and health experts, updated a Cochrane Review on how our behavior changes when we use adjustable (or, with a sitting option) standing desks. According to the new Cochrane Review, 20 studies including more than 2,100 participants in the U.S., UK, and Europe fail to show that using the trendy office furniture significantly impacts the amount of time we spend sitting. Cochrane explained in a statement that a number of studies they looked at were faulty:

Although sit-stand desks are popular, their potential health benefits are very uncertain. The researchers found very low-quality evidence from three non-randomized studies and low-quality evidence from three randomized studies, with 218 participants, that people who used sit-stand desks sat between 30 minutes and two hours less, compared to when they used conventional desks during the working day. Sit-stand desks also reduced total sitting time, both at work and outside work, and the durations of sitting episodes that last 30 minutes or longer.


The researchers also found that studies on other types of sitting interventions—like taking midday walks—don't necessarily reduce our sitting time.

Lead author Nipun Shrestha added that “at the moment, there is uncertainty over how big an impact sit-stand desks can make on reducing the time spent sitting at work in the short term…. we think that people who are considering investing in sit-stand desks and the other interventions covered in this review should be aware of the limitations of the current evidence base in demonstrating health benefits."


Study co-author Jos Verbeek added,  “At present there is not enough high-quality evidence available to determine whether spending more time standing at work can repair the harms of a sedentary lifestyle. Standing instead of sitting hardly increases energy expenditure, so we should not expect a sit-stand desk to help in losing weight." Seems reasonable.

Verbeek told NPR that standing for long periods of time might even be detrimental to your health, explaining "the idea you should be standing four hours a day? There's no real evidence for that… I would say that there's evidence that standing can be bad for your health." Last year, a study found that sitting and standing for long periods of time are equally bad for your health. A researcher on that paper said at the time that "the problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself."


But there's no doubt that prolong sitting is bad: It's been linked to different types of cancer, obesity, and a shorter lifespan.

So ditch the standing desk if you want, but make sure to stand up and walk every thirty minutes or so. It might save your life and will definitely annoy your co-workers, a winning combination.


Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.