What Does Science Say About Standing Desks?

Standing Desks

Sitting for prolonged periods is bad for your health – that’s something we’ve been hearing more about in recent years. With modern jobs requiring long hours sitting at a desk, health experts have been urging us to mitigate the health risks of excessive sitting. But how do you do that when you’re stuck in an office or in front of a computer screen?

One option that has become popular is the standing desk, which allows you to work while standing up. But what does science say about standing desks? Are they truly better for you than sitting? Let’s take a closer look.

The Risks of Sitting Too Much

Sitting may feel comfortable but it’s not a friend to your health. Research has linked sitting for prolonged periods with serious health concerns. People who spend more time in a chair have higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels – all risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. Too much sitting also increases the risk of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Scientists don’t know the exact mechanisms, but they believe prolonged sitting slows down the body’s metabolism, reduces insulin sensitivity, decreases muscle activity needed for blood circulation, and causes fluid to pool in the legs rather than circulating through the body.

Microbreaks are helpful, but they don’t necessarily offset all the negative effects of sitting in a chair. Being sedentary most of the day can pose long-term health risks. But could standing desks be an effective solution?

Benefits of Standing Desks

Standing desk proponents argue these desks could counteract the above risks from excessive sitting. And there’s research to back up those claims.

Studies show standing desk users sit up to 2 hours less per day. Plus, muscle activity increases in your legs and core increase compared to when you’re sitting. This activates biochemical responses that reduce blood sugar spikes and may improve insulin sensitivity.

A study with twenty-three office workers revealed that alternating between standing and sitting every half hour throughout the workday significantly reduced spikes in blood sugar levels – by over 11% on average. The simple act of getting up and changing positions frequently had a tangible positive impact on their metabolic health.

Standing also helps blood circulation by preventing fluid pooling.

The benefits may be even greater. Small studies have found beneficial effects like lower blood pressure, reduced fatigue, and enhanced mood among standing desk users. Lack of fatigue can even make you more productive, so you get more done at home or at the office. However, we still need longer-term studies to substantiate that standing desks can produce lasting improvements in health outcomes. And there are downsides to using a standing desk that you should be aware of.

Potential Downsides of Standing Desks

While evidence suggests standing desks reduce sitting time and provide some immediate health markers, they don’t eliminate health risks entirely. Also, too much standing can also take a toll on your body over time. For example, prolonged standing is linked to foot, ankle, leg, and back pain issues. Standing for lengthy periods also places added pressure on your veins, increasing the risk of varicose veins. Plus, one study found standing desk users reported more upper back and neck pain after several months of use.

And standing burns only marginally more calories than sitting – not enough to produce substantial weight loss that could reduce obesity risk on its own. Users may also sit outside work more to rest their legs after standing all day. If someone stands for 6 hours a day instead of sitting, they could burn an extra fifty-four calories daily. That translates to about five pounds per year, which is not insignificant when trying to lose weight or prevent weight gain.

There’s also the risk of compensating by being more sedentary outside of work after standing all day. So, while standing desks hold promise for increased calorie expenditure, users should be cautious not to simply sit more during their leisure time to rest their legs. The key is an overall increase in movement and non-exercise activity. For example, you might balance on one leg for short periods or even do a few squats or squat jumps while you’re standing.

Standing Desks Have Modest Benefits for Some

Unfortunately, standing desks alone won’t magically erase the risks of being sedentary. The human body really isn’t designed to be stationary for extended periods, whether sitting or standing. Movement and physical activity are still essential. So, don’t forfeit that workout just because you used a standing desk.

Maximizing the Benefits of Standing Desks

While simply switching to a standing desk won’t guarantee improved health, they can still be a useful tool as part of an overall active lifestyle. Here are some tips:

  • Gradually increase standing time to allow your body to adjust and prevent excessive fatigue. Vary between sitting and standing.
  • Wear supportive shoes and use cushioned anti-fatigue mats to reduce foot discomfort.
  • Perform stretches, micro-movements, and light exercise during work to remain active.
  • Be sure to still get regular exercise each day, including both cardio and strength training. Movement is vital!

Focus less on standing versus sitting time, and more on reducing sedentary behavior through increased movement and physical activity. Think of standing desks as one component of maintaining better health, not a magic fix-all.

The research indicates standing desks can provide benefits but need to be combined with good lifestyle habits. There is no substitute for regular exercise if you want to enjoy lower disease risk and feel your best both now and decades into the future.


  • Ma J, Ma D, Li Z, Kim H. Effects of a Workplace Sit-Stand Desk Intervention on Health, and Productivity. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Nov 4;18(21):11604. doi: 10.3390/ijerph182111604. PMID: 34770116; PMCID: PMC8582919.
  • Leech J. 7 Benefits of a Standing Desk. Healthline. Published June 18, 2017. Accessed February 22, 2024. healthline.com/nutrition/7-benefits-of-a-standing-desk
  • Shmerling RH. The truth behind standing desks – Harvard Health. Harvard Health. Published September 23, 2016. Accessed February 22, 2024. health.harvard.edu/blog/the-truth-behind-standing-desks-2016092310264.
  • Sitting risks: How harmful is too much sitting? Mayo Clinic. Published 2022. Accessed February 22, 2024. mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005.

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