Are You Sitting Down? Standing Desks Aren’t That Great

The much-touted health benefits for office workers are way overblown, suggests one recent study

We’ve all seen the commercials. Slim, healthy office workers in beautifully lit spaces happily standing at their desks, typing away on a keyboard or perhaps munching on an apple.

Remember that old adage — that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is? New research suggests the health claims that accompany the use of standing desks may fall squarely into that “too good to be true” category.

An advertisement for one of the most popular brands of standing desks, Varidesk, claims its design “started as a way to ease one person’s back pain.” The commercial, which can be seen on YouTube, goes on to imply that the use of standing desks “gives you energy,” “increases productivity,” and “burns calories.”

Prices range from about $395 for the most popular model (that sits atop an existing desk) to $1,495 for a “conference” model. This model includes a high desk or table and accommodates up to eight people at once.

The health benefits sound completely legitimate. What’s more, if you’ve got to be at work anyway, you might as well be getting healthy while you’re working. And after all, “sitting is the new smoking.”

Or so we thought.

A study by Finnish researchers at the University of Jyvaskyla suggests the health benefits ascribed to the use of standing desks in the work setting are largely overblown, Science Daily reported.

The software industry, the researchers noted, is one that is particularly well-suited to examining the impact of excessive sedentary behavior. Multiple studies have indicated that too much sitting is detrimental to one’s personal health.

The investigators studied workers’ use of the standing workstations at one company along several dimensions. Those dimensions included physical activity, mental alertness, stress, and musculoskeletal strain.

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The researchers described the positive impact on promoting physical activity as only “modest.” They noted no impact on mental alertness. Ironically, the use of the desks shifted “the stress-recovery balance more toward stress than recovery,” as noted by Science Daily.

And a reported reduction in pain in the head and shoulders seemed to be offset by increased pain in the legs and feet.

“Well, at least the workers had better posture — or maybe they were particularly pleased with their new standing desks despite the empirical lack of health benefits?” one might ask.

Sorry. Not that, either.

“The use of standing workstations did not have an impact on work posture comfort or workstation satisfaction,” said Science Daily in a summary of the researchers’ findings.

Related: Stand Up to All Those Sit-Down Desks

One semi-positive finding of the study was that participants burned an extra 6.1 calories per hour. That’s the equivalent of roughly half a peanut per hour, for anyone keeping score. And over the course of a full, eight-hour workday, it’s the equivalent of about half a banana.

So are the benefits of a standing desk worth the hefty price tag? Pull up a chair and think that one over.

Michele Blood is a Flemington, New Jersey-based freelance writer and regular contributor to LifeZette.