To sit or stand at work?

What the latest research tells us about standing at our office desk.

Colleague Luann has found a standing option at her desk to alleviate back pain
Colleague Luann has found a standing option at her desk to alleviate back pain

Peering into the offices at the Michigan State University Extension Grand Traverse County building will reveal that our staff is fairly health conscious. How can you tell? Approximately half of the offices have been configured to include a stand-up desk or sit-stand options. 

Our office reflects a growing worksite wellness trend and general popular notion that standing is “healthier” than sitting. I’m actually standing at my desk as I write this article. Long periods of sitting or sedentary lifestyles are associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. But are stand up desks encouraging workers to get out of their chairs more often? Or is it simply “more fashionable?” Results of a systematic review published in March 2016 can provide some insight on this question. Reviewers wanted to determine the effects of interventions aimed at reducing sitting time at work. A total of 20 studies were included in the review. Like the majority of research out there, the authors concluded that more studies and better research designs are needed to solidify the popular belief that standing desks are healthier than sitting.

So what do we know about the health benefits associated with standing at work?

  • Standing and modest movement burns more calories than sitting, which can add up over a long period of time.
  • Like sitting, standing for extended periods of time is not great.
  • It’s important to move around at work - mix up sitting with standing or go for walks.

I asked my colleagues with sit-stand desks what advice they may have for those considering modifying their worksite. A suggested comment was to make sure a standing desk option fits your workstation appropriately. The ideal setup is one that doesn’t wobble and can easily transition from a seated to standing option.

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