Are Standing Desks Better for Your Health?

You may have heard the popular phrase ‘sitting is the new smoking.’ And it’s thanks to dramatic statements like these that standing desks are more popular in office spaces now than they ever were.

So is working while standing up at your desk any really better for you than sitting? On the face of it, it seems to make sense that standing at a computer rather being hunched over it would be better for you. But what does the science tell us?

Standing desks have never been more popular.

That’s the question that researchers at The Journal of Physical Activity set out to solve.

74 subjects were hooked up to special masks that measured their oxygen consumption and recorded how many calories they burned while doing various activities including: walking on a treadmill, working standing, working sitting down and watching television sitting down. The results were interesting:

  • While the subjects were sitting, they burned around 80 calories an hour – regardless of whether they were typing or watching television.
  • While the subjects were standing at a desk, they only burned an extra 8 calories an hour.
  • While walking the subjects managed to burn an impressive 210 calories in an hour.

This means, when you use a standing desk, you only burn 8 extra calories an hour, or 24 calories every 3 hours – the equivalent of a carrot. Walking, however, for just 30 minutes, burned 100 calories every time.

Although previous studies about standing desks reported higher rates of calorie burning, this recent study had clearly defined evidence which is considered in scientific circles to be more accurate.

It is possible, though, that there are other benefits to using a standing desk. Other studies have shown that your blood sugar levels return to normal much quicker after a meal if you’re standing rather than sitting. And other research suggests that standing desks can reduce back and shoulder pain.

Rather than questioning the benefits of standing desks, perhaps it’s more useful to consider the downsides of sitting down all day. Sitting stationary for many hours has long been linked to increased chances of developing:

  • Cancer, breast and colon in particular
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
Walking for just 30 minutes burns a massive 100 calories.

So while this study shows that standing desks are clearly not the answer when it comes to burning calories, it highlights that there are many ways of ‘not sitting’ – simply swapping sitting for standing is not the answer if weight loss is the goal.

If calories are the metric you’re measuring, then you would be much better going for a brisk walk or a jog a couple of times a day, rather than forcing yourself to stand up all day.