Studies: Pros and cons of standing and stand-biased desks

Studies: Pros and cons of standing and stand-biased desks

Standing desks and stand-biased desks or sit-stand are desks or workstations that promote orthostatic posture in which the body is held in an upright position and supported only by feet. In other words, these workstations are used while standing up as opposed to conventional seated desks.

Take note that a standing desk is a workstation used exclusively for standing up while a stand-biased desk has a high stool that allows a user to choose between standing up or sitting down.

Nevertheless, the reported negative health impacts of prolonged seating in the workplace and academic environments have inspired researchers, academicians, and manufacturers to introduce standing and stand-biased desks as a feasible solution.

The Pros: Benefits of Standing and Stand-Biased Desks

1. Promote Health Through Standing and Reducing Sedentary Behavior

One of the primary arguments for promoting standing and stand-biased desks centers on the purported health benefits stemming from reducing the seated time and to an extent, reducing sedentary behavior. Remember that there are several health risks associated with prolonged sitting to include obesity, cardiovascular diseases, and metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

A preliminary study about the effects of too much sitting by M. T. Hamilton et al. revealed that standing causes isometric contraction of postural muscles. This contraction results further in changes in electromyographic and skeletal muscle lipoprotein lipase that also result in additional biomarkers for health benefits.

L. Wendel et al. also compared the weight-related effects of a stand-biased desk and traditional seated desks in a third-grade and fourth-grade classroom setting. Results revealed that there was a statistically significant decrease in body mass index or BMI percentile in the group that used stand-biased desks for two consecutive years relative to the group that used seated desks during both years.

Central to the health-related argument for using standing and stand-biased desk is the fact that standing results in calorie expenditure while at work. Hence, contrary to seated desks that promote further a sedentary lifestyle, standing has a physical activity dimension. Not that the study of L. J. Carr et al. noted that employees with long-term access to sit-stand desks sat less and stood more compared to employees who used seated desks.

2. Do Not Have Adverse Effects on Concentration and Performance of Tasks

Another purported benefit or advantage of standing and stand-biased desks in workplace and classroom setting is centered on the fact that using such does not have an adverse impact on productivity. Several preliminary studies have explored this claim.

The study of M. E. Benden et al. also revealed that the majority of parents whose children used standing desks in classrooms felt that the set up positively affected in-class behavior. An exploratory study of M. Dornhecker et al. also revealed that the use of stand-biased desks in elementary classrooms did not affect the level of academic engagement of students. Some students even demonstrated better on-task engagement.

Another study investigated the effects of stand-biased desks on reading comprehension and creativity. Researchers L. E. Finch, A. J. Tomiyama, and A. Ward revealed that sanding did not affect reading comprehension and creative performance of the participants. In fact, the study revealed better task engagement as evident from increased interest, enthusiasm, and alertness.

The Cons: Limitations of Standing and Stand-Biased Desks

1. Lack of Conesus Due to Inclusive Findings About the Health Benefits

There is no consensus regarding the absolute health benefits of using standing and stand-biased desks despite the availability of a handful of studies.

A systematic review by researchers at Cochrane evaluated 26 studies involving 2174 individuals. The review showed that stand-biased desks indeed reduced seated time by 30 minutes to two hours a day. However, this amount of time did not correspond to the expert recommendation of up-to-four-hours of standing.

The same Cochrane review also revealed that the desks do not have substantial benefit in weight reduction. It noted that an average-sized man would spend 20 kilocalories and an average-sized woman would spend 12 kilocalories if both spend half of their eight-hour work period standing. The review emphasized the fact that this is not enough to prevent obesity or type 2 diabetes or in other words, there is only a minor difference in energy expenditure between standing and sitting.

It is also worth noting that the review mentioned that the decrease in sitting time via the use of standing or stand-biased desks might decrease over the years. What this means is that the positive behavioral effects of these desks do not have a lasting effect.

2. Some People Are Not Suited for Standing Because of Health Risks

Similar to prolonged seated time, prolonged standing can also bring forth health-related risks. Numerous studies have investigated how jobs that require standing, such as those who work in retail, security staff, restaurants, and assembly line workers, have resulted in serious health implications.

A review study by T. R. Waters and R. B. Dick mentioned that prolonged standing at work had been associated with several health outcomes such as lower back and leg pain, cardiovascular problems, fatigue, discomfort, and pregnancy-related health outcomes.

Of course, seat-biased or sit-stand desks allow individuals an option to alternate between standing and sitting. However, doing so would render the supposed purpose of these desks in encouraging standing unnecessary. Remember that there are no profound health benefits associated with using these desks because they do not reduce seated time to a suitable amount.

Using standing desks would be counterproductive because it would only promote prolonged standing. The fact remains that prolonged standing and prolonged seating have negative health implications. The Cochrane review mentioned that using standing or seat-biased desks is not enough because there are more effective intervention programs that could reduce sedentary lifestyle in the workplace.

Another disadvantage or limitation of promoting the use of standing and stand-biased desks centers on the fact that it is not for everyone. A workplace or classroom populated by these desks by a majority would leave other people out of place. Take note that there are individuals with health conditions that necessitate them to sit down comfortably. These include those with back pains, injuries, and posture problems, among others. These desks are also not suitable for pregnant women, the elderly, those with disabilities, and those who have recently undergone operations. Photo credit: Positive Motion, LLC

FURTHER READINGS AND REFERENCES

  • Benden, M. E., Blake, J. J., Wendel, M. L., and Huber, J. C. Jr. (2011). “The Impact of Stand-Biased Desks in Classrooms on Calorie Expenditure in Children.” American Journal of Public Health. 101(8): 1433-1436. DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2010.300072
  • Dornhecker, M., Blake, J. J., Benden, M., Zhao, H., and Wendel, M. 2015. “The Effect of Stand-Biased Desks on Academic Engagement: An Exploratory Study.” International Journal of Health Promotion and Education. 53(5): 271-280. DOI: 10.1080/14635240.2015.1029641
  • Finch, L. E., Tomiyama, A. J., and Ward, A. 2017. “Taking A Stand: The Effects of Standing Desks on Task Performance and Engagement.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 14(8): 939. DOI: 10.3390/ijerph14080939
  • Hamilton, M. T., Healey, G. N., Dunstan, D. W., Zderic, T. W., and Owen, N. 2008. “Too Little Exercise and Too Much Sitting: Inactivity Physiology and the Need for New Recommendations on Sedentary Behavior.” Current Cardiovascular Risk Reports. 2(4): 292-298. DOI: 10.1007/s12170-008-0054-8
  • Hamilton, M. T., Hamilton, D. G., and Zderic, T. W. 2007. “Role of Low Energy Expenditure and Sitting in Obesity, Metabolic Syndrome, Type 2 Diabetes, and Cardiovascular Disease.” Diabetes. 56(11): 2655-2667. DOI: 10.2337/db07-0882
  • Shrestha N., Kukkonen-Harjula K.T., Verbeek, J.H., Ijaz S., Hermans, V., and Pedisic, Z. 2016. “Workplace Interventions for Reducing Sitting at Work.” The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 17(3). DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD010912.pub3
  • Waters, T. R. and Dick, R. B. 2015. “Evidence of Health Risks Associated with Prolonged Standing at Work and Intervention Effectiveness.” Rehabilitation Nursing Journal. 40(3): 148-165. DOI: 10.1002/rnj.166