Are Standing Desks a Waste of Time?
Why the health benefits of standing up at work might be a bit oversold
The idea behind standing desks in the workplace as a health intervention is fairly simple — we know that a sedentary lifestyle, with lots of sitting, is bad for us. That’s been demonstrated over and over again in dozens if not hundreds of studies at this point. It is undoubtedly true that sitting down a lot, and not getting much exercise, is bad for your health.
So, the idea goes, just stand! If you’re in front of a desk all day, you can just get a raised desk (or one that goes up and down), and stand up. That’ll reduce your risk of all those nasty outcomes, because you’ll be mitigating the main risk factor that we’ve identified for the problem.
Except, as with most health interventions, it turns out that the reality is somewhat more complex than that. While standing desks, and workplace standing interventions, probably do make you stand more — which, let’s be honest, is not a shocking fact — they may not improve health or wellbeing by an appreciable amount.
Let’s look at the evidence.
The first thing to note is that standing desks — and standing interventions in general — definitely do make you stand more. This is a change to when I last wrote about the subject in 2018, when the studies didn’t really show much of an effect. There are now several large, well-conducted trials out there showing that workplaces which spent a great deal of time and money buying standing desks and telling their employees to stand up as much as possible saw improvements, increasing standing time by somewhere in the range of 30–60 minutes a day.
Now, that sounds good — as I said, sitting is bad for us, so not sitting must be better. Except, this is where it gets complex.