So, is it time to buy a standing desk? Let’s examine the evidence.
Many people know when they’ve been sitting too long because their back or neck gets sore. These are effects many can relate to because we can actually feel them.
But it’s what you can’t feel or see that you may need to be concerned about. Canadian researcher Dr Peter Katzmarzyk, for instance, found that those who sat almost all of the time had nearly a one-third higher risk of early death than those who stood almost all of the time.
University College London researcher Dr Emmanuel Stamatakisfound similar results among women in the United Kingdom: those whose work involved mostly standing/walking about had a 32% lower risk of early death than those who worked in sitting jobs.
For the average adult, standing burns more calories and involves more muscular contraction than sitting. One studyreported 2.5 times higher average muscular activity of the thigh when standing compared to sitting. This is important for improving blood sugar profiles and vascular health, reducing the risk of early death.
But it’s important to note prolonged standing can also have adverse health effects. Compared to sitting, when we stand, our hearts and circulatory systems work harder to maintain blood flow to the brain, because they are countering the effects of gravity. Standing still for long periods of time can lead to swelling, heaviness or cramping of the legs.
Enforced standing has actually been used as an interrogation technique (though former US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld couldn’t understand why it was only for four hours – he stood for eight to ten hours a day).
If standing still for too long is potentially risky, what should you do?
To obtain the health benefits of standing and reduce the potential adverse effects, the best option is to alternate between sitting and standing. Our message is to stand up, sit less and move more.
Alternating between sitting and standing will increase muscular contractions, stimulating blood flow and resulting in more calories burnt and healthier blood sugar levels. Recent findings from our lab show that alternating between 30 minutes of sitting and standing can improve blood sugar levels after a meal.
Now, if you’re leaning towards getting a standing desk but are concerned about your concentration and productivity, there’s some good news. Research shows task performance such as typing, reading and performing cognitive tests is largely unaffected by standing desks.
Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Virginia Woolf, and Ernest Hemingway fought off the urge to sit with the aid of standing desks. It might be time for you to do the same, and alternate between sitting and standing.