Standing desks aren’t entirely new – but they’ve slowly crept into offices and can now often be seen dotted about next to the more traditional workstations with chairs.
One thing standing desks definitely come with is a certain level of smugness – anyone who uses them feels a sense of superiority, similar to those who have gone to the gym before work starts. This could be because they’re towering above the normal worker sitting down, or maybe it’s because of all the benefits they’ve read about in the media.
Of course, some people are using standing desks due to medical issues or disabilities – in which case they can be vital. For everybody though, the potential to ease and avoid the likes of back ache and poor posture (not to mention the longer term diseases associated with sitting down too much) can be appealing.
Thinking of getting a standing desk so that more people at work can hate me.— Alex Hirz (@HirzTweets) May 10, 2017
Standing up all day is a lot harder work than sitting on your rear end, but is it worth it? We asked Dr Nicola Read from Bupa UK for her thoughts…
First thing’s first: What are the dangers of sitting all day?
Our modern working culture means we’re far more likely to spend our days sitting at a desk hunched over a computer than outside, standing up, or doing any kind of active physical work.
Sure, it might be good that we don’t have to spend backbreaking hours in the fields, but all this sitting is undoubtedly affecting our health. "Sitting for a long time has been linked to the development of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease (like high blood pressure and high cholesterol), and obesity," Read explains.
According to the British Heart Foundation, adults of working age in England spend about 9.5 hours a day sedentary. This really is an eye-watering amount of time, which will only build up over the years.
Will standing at work make much of a difference?
If you’re hoping that standing all day is basically the equivalent to doing a workout, then unfortunately we have some bad news for you. "Standing only uses a small amount of energy more than sitting; according to some researchers this is as little as nine calories per hour," says Read. "As there’s limited research to support standing desks directly, it’s difficult to say the real difference between the two."
However, Read does think standing desks are a good way to at least get you upright and thinking about moving. "It’s recommended that desk-based workers aim for four hours of standing and light walking during working hours, so working at a standing desk can help you to achieve this," she says.
Is exercise the key?
Rather than agonising over a sitting vs standing desk, it could be better to think about taking more active breaks and having a solid exercise regime to counteract the dangers of sitting at work all day.
"Some of the proven benefits of being more active during the day and taking regular breaks from sitting include a decrease in fat tissue and better regulation of blood sugar," Read says.
She can’t emphasise the importance of taking these regular breaks from sitting enough, adding: "Ways to do this, apart from using a standing desk, include standing whilst taking a phone call, taking the stairs rather than the lift, walking up escalators, stretching your legs whilst taking a coffee or tea break and going over to colleagues’ desks to chat rather than emailing."
It’s not just breaks throughout your day but also regular exercise which can help. "Researchers looked at data from over one million individuals and found that exercise (60-75 minutes of moderate exercise per day) can reduce, or even remove, the adverse impact of sitting," Read explains.
So taking regular breaks and exercise is arguably a much better bet for staying healthy than simply buying a standing desk and calling it a day. However, that’s the impact on your physical health – research published in the British Medical Journal last year from the University of Leicester found that a standing desk can boost job performance and work engagement. So if you’re feeling a bit demotivated, it could be a good idea to try out a standing desk – just don’t use it as an excuse to skip the gym.