Harvard Medical School: The Truth Behind Standing Desks

Harvard Medical School: The Truth Behind Standing Desks

If you work a desk job, you’ve probably heard the buzz about standing desks. In recent years, sales of these desks have skyrocketed, with many people opting to work on their feet instead of sitting in a chair all day.

While standing desks may seem like a great way to increase energy and productivity, one common assumption is that they can also help with weight loss or preventing weight gain. However, an article published by Harvard Medical School (which we’ve summarized in this blog post - feel free to read the full article by Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing, for more) and study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that this might not be entirely true.

Researchers fitted 74 healthy individuals with masks that measured their oxygen consumption, a reflection of how many calories they burned while sitting, standing, or walking on a treadmill. The results showed that while standing, the number of calories burned was only slightly higher than while sitting. In fact, using a standing desk for three hours burns an extra 24 calories, about the same number of calories in a carrot.

While this may be disappointing news for those hoping to shed some extra pounds by standing instead of sitting, there are still other potential health benefits to standing desks. For example, standing after a meal may help blood sugar levels return to normal faster, and standing instead of sitting may reduce the risk of shoulder and back pain.

Furthermore, long hours of sitting have been linked to a higher risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer (especially cancers of the colon or breast), and premature death. While rigorous studies of standing desks have not yet been performed, it’s assumed that standing or being active in some way during the workday can have a positive impact on these potential health risks.

But before you rush out to buy a standing desk, it’s important to keep in mind that using one is like any other "intervention" and can come with side effects. Suddenly going from sitting all day to standing all day can cause back, leg, or foot pain, so it’s better to ease into it gradually. Setting a timer to remind you when to stand or sit can also disrupt your concentration, reduce your focus, and reduce your efficiency or creativity.

Certain tasks, especially those requiring fine motor skills, are more accurately performed while seated. So, a standing desk may not be a good solution for everyone who sits a lot at work.

Standing desks can offer potential health benefits, but they should be used in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle.

If you’re considering a standing desk, do your research, and make sure it’s the right choice for you. It’s also important to ease into it gradually and listen to your body’s needs.
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