Are standing desks really doing us any good?
That question has divided workplaces since sitting started going out of fashion about five years ago. Our sedentary lifestyles were killing us, so standing, the thinking went, was the logical antidote. Sitting too long has been associated with diabetes, hypertension, some forms of cancer, anxiety and a generally greater probability of early death. However, a few years and hundreds of studies later, the naysayers began arguing that the benefits of standing had been exaggerated.
"What is the real answer?" asked Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic. "How many calories would someone burn in standing or sitting up?" A new study may provide the most definitive answer to date, at least as far as losing weight is concerned. Standing does, in fact, burn calories, researchers found, just not that many: about 54 calories for a six-hour day of standing.
In other words, about the same number of calories contained in an orange.
The researchers sifted through the almost 700 studies that have sought to measure the health benefits of standing desks. Of those, 46 were rigorous enough to be included in their review. These studies made sure to only measure sitting vs. standing and were careful not to include other potential calorie-burning behaviours. They also used what the researchers consider a scientific method for measuring calories. In total, the studies looked at more than 1100 standing desk users.
"The ultimate goal is to avoid sitting for too long continuously."
"The conclusion was that indeed people who stand burn more calories than those who sit," said Lopez-Jimenez, who worked on the study. "But at the same time we found the number of calories was not as high as some people who were in favour of the standing desk were claiming."
While 54 calories per day doesn't amount to much, over a four-year period-about as long as standing desks have been en vogue-someone could lose 10 kilograms, the researchers concluded. The study also found that men tend to burn twice as many calories per minute as women while standing.
Despite the modest effects of standing desks found in the research, Lopez-Jimenez, who studies obesity and cardiovascular disease, still advocates for standing desks at work. Research has found that people with standing desks tend to move more throughout the day, which would result in more burned calories than just standing. And there's also the issue of back problems associated with long periods of sitting, another health issue standing desks were created to address.
"I tell my patients to try to apply some common sense," Lopez-Jimenez said. He recommends standing periodically throughout the day "as many times as you can" for at least 30 minutes at a time. "The ultimate goal is to avoid sitting for too long continuously."
You don't need a standing desk to do that, but it can't hurt.