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Do Standing Desks Really Help Toward Weight Loss?

Tim Boyer's picture

Are you looking into buying a standing desk for your home office or for work because you’ve heard that it will result in more calories burned and can help you lose weight? Here’s what experts recently revealed after taking a close look at multiple studies looking at standing desks.


Sitting for long stretches of time at the workplace has been associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease—a medical problem that is more colloquially referred to as "sitting sickness." There is no denying that sitting for too long is bad for your health. Aside from the aforementioned diseases, people who sit too long can also find themselves developing difficult to remove varicose veins and/or deep vein thrombosis of the legs.

To remedy this problem and turn relatively sedentary workers into more actively-moving workers, it has been suggested that standing at your desk rather than sitting at it has healthful benefits that includes among other things an easy way to burn more calories that will result in losing weight.

At first glance this appears to make sense, since it seems reasonable that standing should result in significantly more calorie burn than sitting. In fact, in a study from The University of Queensland, Australia Dr. Genevieve Healy, a research fellow at the School of Population Health who led the study, stated that when it comes to comparing co-workers at a workplace, taking breaks—and thereby getting out of their office chair—makes a difference:

"Overall, for length of sedentary time, the most clinically significant findings were for blood fats and markers of insulin resistance. For the number of breaks in sedentary time, the most significant differences were observed for waist circumference. The top 25% of people who took the most breaks had, on average, a 4.1cm smaller waist circumference than those in the lowest 25%."

However, in a new review published recently in the Cochrane Library, the benefits of standing over sitting are not so clear after mining through the data of multiple studies that addressed ways of getting employees to stand more and sit less while at work. In general, what the studies indicated was that employees who were motivated to sit less via different measures such as the use of standing desks, computer timer prompts to remind an employee how long they had been sitting, etc. that they wound up increasing their time on their feet anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours per day.

Unfortunately, according to the Cochrane Library review, the studies predominantly suffered from too small of a sample size and other problems to draw any meaningful conclusions that truly supported the use of implementing standing desks at the workplace—that it was not clear from these studies whether simply standing instead of sitting made employees markedly healthier.

According to ABC News Radio:

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"This Cochrane Review shows that, at the moment, there is uncertainty over how big an impact sit-stand desks can make on reducing the time spent sitting at work in the short term," Nipun Shrestha from the Health Research and Social Development Forum, Thapathali, Nepal, said in a statement Wednesday. "Given the popularity of sit-stand desks in particular, we think that people who are considering investing in sit-stand desks and the other interventions covered in this review should be aware of the limitations of the current evidence base in demonstrating health benefits."

In addition, one of the reviews co-authors―Jos Verbeek―stated that there’s no evidence that standing versus sitting helps toward weight loss:

"Standing instead of sitting hardly increases energy expenditure, so we should not expect a sit-stand desk to help in losing weight. It's important that workers and employers are aware of this, so that they can make more informed decisions," Verbeek said.

However, if you are a believer in using your standing desk at work, Dr. Alice Chen, a physiatrist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, points out that standing forces people to use and strengthen the muscles that help with posture—hence, a health benefit.

In spite of the review’s findings, making it a habit to take a break from sitting should be the take-away message. Here is an informative article about 15 Ways to Fight Fatigue when you are desk-bound the entire day at work.


ABC News Radio “Health Benefit of Standing Desks Not Proven, Medical Review Shows

Cochrane Library “Workplace interventions for reducing sitting at work