The debate over the benefits of standing desks continues with the latest research strongly endorsing the notion of staying on your feet.
A recent study in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that standing for six hours a day instead of sitting not only prevents weight gain — it can help people shed pounds.
The research looked at whether standing burns more calories than sitting.
Researchers analyzed more than 46 studies, spanning 1,184 people. The average person was 33 years old. In addition, 60 percent of the participants were male and they had an average weight of 143 pounds.
Standing burned 0.15 calories more per minute compared to sitting. If a 143-pound person stood for six hours a day instead of sitting, they would burn an extra 54 calories a day.
In addition, the muscle activity from standing is also associated with lower risks for strokes and heart attacks, researchers said.
“The benefits of standing could go beyond weight control,” Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, chief of preventive cardiology at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and senior author of the study, said in a statement.
Researchers said people may burn even more calories standing because they’re likely moving while standing.
“Based on the result of our study, standing for sure burns more calories than sitting, and the reason is that the number and volume of the muscles that an individual uses [while] standing are higher than sitting,” Lopez-Jimenez told Healthline.
However, there’s an array of conclusions from recent studies involving the health implications of standing for long amounts of time.
A 2017 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, for example, concluded that people who primarily stand for long periods of time during the day are twice as likely to have heart disease.
Sit or stand? Science still out
Researchers in the latest study are firm on their conclusions.
“It’s important to avoid sitting for hours at a time. Standing is a very good first step — no pun intended — to avoid this mindset of sitting interminably without moving,” Lopez-Jimenez said.
He did note that standing for extended periods of time isn’t safe for all people, such as those with joint or vascular issues. Those people should still regularly get up from prolonged sitting durations to walk around though.
In addition to the problem with too much standing, the science is also out on whether standing versus sitting can actually help people shed more calories or lose weight.
A study out the year before in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health reported that substituting periods of sitting or standing with walking increased energy expenditure significantly, but substituting standing instead of sitting may not impact energy expenditure.
Those researchers maintained that the potential advantages of standing as opposed to sitting need to be further studied.
Your aching back
So, is sitting truly bad for us?
Dr. Peter Ottone, DC, a chiropractor from New Jersey, said that weight gain and carpal tunnel syndrome as well as shoulder, back, and neck pain are all conditions that can be affected by standing and sitting.
Research can differ depending on many factors, including preexisting spinal conditions, time spent in each posture, and specific weight-bearing tendencies for the individual, among other things, he noted.
Previous research has suggested an increase in load on lumbar discs with sitting more than standing, Ottone said.
“One less frequently discussed variable that makes sitting for extended periods damaging to the spine is the sustained contracture of the abdominal and hamstring muscles and the imbalance this creates affecting the mechanics of the lower back,” Ottone explained.
“Using a standing desk, even for a portion of a workday, can minimize this imbalance and help maintain better spinal alignment and muscle symmetry,” he explained.
Don’t think that a standing desk frees you from all the discomforts that can come with sitting at a desk all day.
“Just like sitting and leaning forward for extended periods can increase pressure on the back, the same applies to standing with poor ergonomics,” Ottone said. Maintaining good posture and taking frequent breaks is the best way to ensure you’re standing or sitting optimally.
New science on sitting vs. standing
Lopez-Jimenez said his study was the first systematic review and meta-analysis done so far about this subject, so its reliability and validity were much higher than the previous studies.
“This study shows the exact difference between sitting and standing in terms of the amount of energy expenditure in general population and also in different genders,” he explained.
Changing to a standing desk isn’t the only way to ensure we stand more.
Watching television or playing games while standing is also a good way to get in more time on our feet, Lopez-Jimenez said.
As for whether or not to try a standing desk, Ottone believes they can be a good investment.
“My feeling is that using a standing desk is a sound philosophy and will be recommended by back specialists much more frequently as more research is available,” he said.
Bethany Barone Gibbs, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh who has studied standing and sitting, said good standing desk ergonomics are important to ensure you’re standing smart.
“Simple things like not wearing high heels (you can swap out for flats or slippers while at your desk if needed), having the top of the computer screen at about eye level, and varying posture (sit-to-stand) often are important for other types of outcomes like pain and fatigue,” she noted.
Can’t stand for long amounts of time? You can still take those regular breaks and maintain good posture if you’re stuck sitting at a desk.
“Quite a few studies have shown that a single day of breaking up sitting with standing or short walks seems to have a beneficial effect on health parameters like blood sugar control, blood pressure, and feelings of pain and fatigue,” Barone Gibbs added.
Sitting, standing, or both, it looks like we can all find some sort of perfect balance.