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Are Standing Desks Really Worth It?

Aug. 30, 2021 - Katie McCallum

You can't take the desk out of your desk job, but — with a standing desk — you can take the chair out of it. And, if the rising popularity of these desks is any indication, perhaps it's because there's reason to believe it improves our health as much as our productivity.

Still, you may be unsure whether a standing desk is really worth it. Of course you're tired of sitting all day, but is a different desk really the right solution?

First, there's the question of whether a standing desk is worth the price tag? This decision is a bit personal. But, keep in mind: A standing desk doesn't have to be a several hundred dollar investment. There are a variety of standing desk converters (which sit on top of the desk you already have) that won't break the bank.

Price tag aside, you might still be on the fence (or, more realistically, in your chair) about the actual health benefits of a standing desk. Do they exist, or is it simply wishful thinking?

Using a standing desk may help reduce lower back pain and neck pain

You probably already know this, but, when you're sitting all day, it's prretttttyy easy to slouch, lean and just generally slide your way into some unfriendly postures — including, but not limited to, hunched shoulders, a neck that's stretched out forwards and idle abdominal muscles.

When sitting, your spine is generally in a less effective position, and this places more demand on your back muscles and neck muscles. As a result, your abdominal muscles need to be very engaged to help absorb the extra stress. But, many people neglect the full use of their core while sitting. What's more is that sitting also reduces your blood circulation in your legs, which puts strain on your hamstring and quadricep muscles.

By the end of the work week, there's back pain, neck pain and maybe even some leg pain.

The benefit of standing instead of sitting is that it makes it much easier to keep your spine in normal alignment, meaning your muscles don't have to work as hard. For instance, standing more naturally engages your abdominal muscles, resulting in a properly aligned spine and optimal use of your back and neck muscles.

But, a word of caution: You can have bad spine alignment while standing, too — whether that's because you're not establishing correct standing posture, you're not engaging your muscles properly or you're making one or more common work desk mistakes.

Unfortunately, a standing desk won't help you lose weight

In a perfect world, standing at your desk most of the day instead of sitting would result in some extra calorie burn.

The reality, however, is that standing burns only slightly more calories per hour than sitting — about 88 calories per hour vs. 80 calories per hour, one study shows. This small increase isn't likely to contribute to any weight loss or weight maintenance goals you may have.

What this study found instead is that replacing periods of sitting with walking caused more energy expenditure — about 130 more burned calories, in fact. (Wait a minute...should we be investing in treadmill desks instead of standing desks??) The exact calories burned per hour while walking varies depending on your weight and your pace, but walking can generally aid in weight loss for some people — especially when combined with efforts to eat healthy diet.

But even though standing doesn't really burn more calories than sitting, know that sitting too much can, over time, impact your health — even if you're getting plenty of exercise.

Alternating standing and sitting might benefit your blood sugar after a meal

A sedentary lifestyle (aka, sitting too much) increases a person's risk of developing type 2 diabetes by more than 90%. One theory as to why is that sitting makes it harder for your body to absorb sugar in your bloodstream, resulting in increased blood sugar levels. Over time, blood sugar spikes can contribute to insulin resistance (aka, type 2 diabetes).

Admittedly, the evidence isn't overwhelming, but one study found that alternating sitting and standing throughout an eight-hour workday has modest but beneficial effects on how blood sugar is regulated after a meal. This suggests that investing in a standing desk (and actually standing at it) may potentially help reduce your risk of developing diabetes.

Plus, sitting too much isn't just a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. It's linked to a variety of health issues.

Prolonged sitting can negatively impact your health

The last reason a standing desk might benefit your health? Well, because the alternative can actually be bad for it. Research shows that sitting more than eight hours a day can have a serious impact on a person's health.

In fact, prolonged sitting is a risk factor for a variety of chronic health conditions, including:

And if you think the only eight hours you sit are while you're at work...think again. You probably also sit during your commute, while you eat, while you watch TV and more.

So, it's important to make sure you're moving more and sitting less — whether this means alternating sitting and standing throughout the day at your new standing desk or taking frequent, short breaks to get up and move around.

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