The health benefits of standing desks have been exaggerated, new research says.
Sitting started slipping out of fashion about five years ago, as our sedentary lifestyles were killing us. Standing seemed to be the logical antidote.
Sitting too long has been associated with diabetes, hypertension, some forms of cancer, anxiety and a greater probability of early death. But a few years and hundreds of studies later, the naysayers argue that benefits of standing aren't that great.
"What is the real answer?" asked Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist. "How many calories would someone burn in standing or sitting up?"
The most definitive answer to date, as far as losing weigh, shows standing does burn calories, but only about 54 per six hours.
That's about the same number of calories in an orange.
Researchers sifted through nearly 700 studies on the health benefits of standing desks. Of those, only 46 rigorously measured sitting vs. standing and excluded other potential calorie-burning behaviors. They also used what the researchers consider a scientific method to measure calories. In all, the studies looked at more than 1,100 standing desk users.
While 54 calories a day isn't much, a standing worker could lose 22 pounds in four years, researchers concluded. The study also found that men tend to burn twice as many calories per minute as women while standing.
Despite the modest effects of standing desks, Lopez-Jimenez, who studies obesity and cardiovascular disease, still advocates for them. People with standing desks tend to move more throughout the day, which would burn even more calories. And long periods of sitting contribute to back problems.
"I tell my patients to try to apply some common sense," he said, advising people to stand periodically for 30 minutes through the day "as many times as you can. The ultimate goal is to avoid sitting for too long continuously."
You don't need a standing desk to do that, but it can't hurt.