You’ve probably heard the health mantra “Sitting is the new smoking.”
The phrase was coined by Mayo Clinic researcher Dr. James Levine a few years ago after studies he conducted showed that sitting for prolonged periods is one of the worst things you can do for your health.1
His research shows it leads to obesity, heart disease, and other serious conditions. Dr. Levine said, “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking and kills more people than HIV.
“The chair is out to kill us.”
So if sitting is so bad, standing must be better, right?
That was the theory that led thousands of office workers to buy standing desks.2
Dr. Levine himself invented and sold a “treadmill desk” that allowed workers to stroll while they worked.
But now, for the first time, studies are testing standing desks in real-life settings to see if they live up to their promise of better health.
The answer is…they don’t.
Researchers at Curtin University in Australia took a close look at people as they used standings desks. They checked for changes in comfort and cognitive function. And they measured subjects’ muscle fatigue, movement, lower limb swelling, and mental state.
They found that as the day went on, subjects were less comfortable standing. And their reaction time slowed.
Researchers concluded that standing desks cause “discomfort and deteriorating mental reactiveness.” The results were recently published in the journal Ergonomics. 3
Is Standing the New Smoking?
The study adds to more comprehensive research published earlier in the American Journal of Epidemiology.4
It tracked more than 7,000 office workers in Ontario, Canada, over 12 years. It found that people who often stood at work were almost twice as likely to develop heart disease.5
Researcher Peter Smith was a co-author of the study. He said that workers who stand a lot are as likely to have heart disease as those who smoke.
“There are a couple different mechanisms by which prolonged standing can increase your risk of heart disease,” Smith said.
“One of them is by blood pooling in your legs. And the other is by increased venous pressure in your body by trying to pump that blood back up to your heart. That increases oxidative stress.”
Professor Alan Taylor is a physiotherapy expert at Nottingham University. He says the standing desk craze is due more to marketing than to science.
“It has been driven more by commercial reasons than scientific evidence,” he said. “But the evidence is catching up, and it’s showing there are some drawbacks.”
So what’s an office worker to do?
Professor Taylor says the answer is simple. You need to move. Neither sitting nor standing all day is healthy.
Even if you exercise before or after work, you still need to find ways to move during the day.6
7 Ways to Stay Active at Work
- Take a short stroll every hour…even if it’s just to the bathroom or the water cooler. You can set an alarm reminding you to get up.
- Move your printer. Move it across the room. This forces you to get up whenever you print.
- Walk while you talk. Make it a habit to pace when you take phone calls.
- Do walking meetings. Ask if this is something your company would be willing to implement.
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes. If you’re wearing towering heels or a stiff suit, you won’t want to move. Even if your office requires formal dress, you can choose a chunkier heel or find a suit made from flexible fabric.
- Take the stairs. Avoid elevators.
- Track your steps. Use a Fitbit or a cellphone app like Google Fit or Runkeeper. Find out how many steps you do in a normal day and set a goal to improve.7
- Walk instead of emailing. Yes, you can talk to your colleagues. Walk to their desk and speak face to face, like people did in the old days.
One more thing… Don’t eat at your desk. Use your lunch as an opportunity for movement.