Standing desks are not as good as you think

Standing desks are not as good as you think

An updated Cochrane Review, published in the Cochrane Library, says that the benefits of a variety of interventions intended to reduce sitting at work are very uncertain.

Millions of people worldwide sit at a desk all day, and over recent years this has led to increased levels of physical inactivity in the work place. Health experts have warned that long periods of sitting can increase the risk of heart disease and obesity.

In an earlier study, Dr. Melvyn Hillsdon, associate professor of Sport and Health Sciences at the University of Exeter in England and a co-author of the study, said in a written statement, Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing. The results cast doubt on the benefits of sit-stand work stations.

It was added that, Research is not black and white, and if a single study finds X or Y that doesn t mean that this is the truth we should all go along with, Dr. Emmanuel Stamatakis, associate professor at the University of Sydney in Australia and a co-author of the study, said in an email. The recent study findings are in disagreement with the rest of the literature and there must be a reason for this.

There are a number of different approaches to reduce the amount of time we spend sitting down while at work. One option that is increasing in popularity is the sit-stand desk. These are desks that are designed to allow you to work at your desk sitting down or standing up.

A team of Cochrane researchers updated a systematic review that looked at the effects of different strategies to encourage people to reduce the amount of time they spend sitting at work. They looked at twenty studies with a total of 2,174 participants from the US, the UK and Europe. They included evidence from both randomised and non-randomised studies.

Although sit-stand desks are popular, their potential health benefits are very uncertain. The researchers found very low quality evidence from three non-randomised studies and low quality evidence from three randomised studies, with 218 participants, that people who used them 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. Standing more did not produce harmful effects in the studies, such as musculoskeletal pain, varicose veins or a decrease in productivity.

Other interventions aimed at reducing inactivity such as taking a walk during breaks at work didn't change the length of sitting time at work. The authors found low quality evidence that counselling may lead to a modest reduction in sitting time, (around 30 minutes on average). The researchers found a number of limitations in the included studies that reduced their confidence in the validity and applicability of the results from the trials. The quality of evidence was low for most of the interventions looked at, mainly because the studies were poorly designed and recruited small numbers of participants.

The study's lead author, Nipun Shrestha from the Health Research and Social Development Forum, Thapathali, Nepal, commented: This Cochrane Review shows 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. There is also low quality evidence of modest benefits for other types of interventions. Given the popularity of sit-stand desks in particular, 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.

Co-author Jos Verbeek, from the Cochrane Work Review Group, Kuopio, Finland, said, It is important that workers who sit at a desk all day take an interest in maintaining and improving their well-being both at work and at home.

Standing instead of sitting hardly increases energy expenditure, so we should not expect a sit-stand desk to help in losing weight. It's important that workers and employers are aware of this, so that they can make more informed decisions.

Standing desks are not as good as you think