My standing desk arrived earlier this month. Having written many articles about the harms of prolonged sitting, I was very excited to give it a go. So, imagine my dismay when I see this latest study: standing desks might not be so beneficial after all.
Yep. According to new research, it turns out that "prolonged standing" is bad for us, too.
The study — which was conducted by scientists from Curtin University in Australia — found that adults who stood for 2 hours while working experienced an increase in whole-body discomfort and a reduced mental state.
I expect many of you are reading this thinking that you just can't win. I certainly am.
Earlier this year, Medical News Today covered a study that linked sitting down for long periods of time with a buildup of visceral fat, or fat around our internal organs. This is the worst kind of fat — the kind that raises our risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
In 2016, another study that we reported on claimed that sitting down for more than 3 hours every day is responsible for more than 430,000 deaths across 54 countries.
Given that the average person in the United States spends a whopping 12 hours per day sitting down, such studies are worrying.
It seems that upping our physical activity alone won't reduce the harms of prolonged sitting — so, what can we do?
According to recent research, we need to reduce the amount of time that we spend sitting down. Enter the standing desk: a simple solution to a big problem. Or is it?
Prolonged standing increased discomfort
In response to what has been coined "sitting disease," standing desks have become all the rage.
But the new study — recently published in the journal Ergonomics — claims that standing while working might not be so good for us after all.
Study co-author Leon Straker, who works in the School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science at Curtin University, and his colleagues tested how 2 hours of standing affected the cognitive functioning and body comfort of 20 adults as they worked.
While the creative problem-solving abilities of participants improved over the 2-hour standing period, the subjects experienced a reduction in mental reaction times.
The participants also reported a 47 percent increase in discomfort across all body regions, particularly in the lower back and lower limbs. Subjects also reported swelling in the lower limbs.
Based on these results, the researchers conclude that "prolonged standing should be undertaken with caution."
But, before you revert to hours of sitting — which is proven to be harmful — it's worth noting that this research only included 20 people, which is hardly a big enough sample to make any firm conclusions about the risks of prolonged standing.
From a personal perspective, I have found that using a standing desk for a few hours per day not only helps me to concentrate, but it also forces me to move around. It seems that my colleagues feel the same way.
"My concentration is up," said one. "It's really good for avoiding the afternoon 'slump,'" said another, while one colleague said that using her standing desk makes her feel "less restless."
All in all, I believe that the results of this research should be taken with a pinch of salt, and that much larger studies are needed to gain a better understanding of the potential health risks of prolonged standing.
That said, going from sitting all day to standing for a few hours is bound to feel strange at first. If a standing desk is on your wish list for work, these useful tips may help to make your experience more comfortable.