There’s not enough evidence to say standing desks are good for your health

He’ll get tired sooner or later.
He’ll get tired sooner or later.
Image: IKEA/YouTube screenshot
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To sit or to stand? That is the question. At least around the office, where standing desks have become popular in recent years.

Sitting for extended periods of time has been associated with increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular problems. But a new meta-analysis (paywall) from the Cochrane Library suggests that using a standing desk may not be better. Data from studies aren’t good enough to show whether standing or sitting is better.

“The evidence was very low to low quality,” Nipun Shrestha, a physician at the Health Research and Social Development forum in Nepal and lead author of the review, told Quartz. Some of the studies found that sit-stand desks and treadmill desks reduce sitting time at work, but the design of the studies makes it difficult to determine if that lead to better health. Other studies of walking interventions or pedaling desks found they didn’t reduce sitting time. 

Of the 20 studies reviewed, most were a year or less and all involved a relatively small sample size. Many of the studies weren’t randomized, so didn’t effectively examine the benefits of sitting or standing. According to NPR, people using standing desks don’t burn more calories. They also may be more prone to develop varicose veins, according to Danish study from 2005.

The meta-analysis concludes that more long-term studies with large sample studies need to be conducted.

Jos Verbeek, at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health and co-author of the meta-analysis, told NPR that sitting could be reduced if offices were designed differently. Printers could be put at the end of hallways. Or bathrooms located up multiple flights of stairs, he said.