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The truth behind standing desks

September 23, 2016

About the Author

photo of Robert H. Shmerling, MD

Robert H. Shmerling, MD, Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School. … See Full Bio
View all posts by Robert H. Shmerling, MD


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September 27, 2016

Spinal injuries and spinal compression are another reason to incorporate standing into what would normally be a sitting-all-day work routine. Standing all day can have its drawbacks – ask a grocery cashier – like anything done for prolonged periods of time. I have benefited from being able to both sit and stand in my work place and physically could not continue to work if I were not able to stand at a computer. While some people may look to standing desks as a kind of “diet fad”, they are very beneficial for those of us with spinal injuries or other restrictions that even regular exercise cannot mitigate.

Pfungwa Ndoro
September 27, 2016

very good article

Richard Winett
September 26, 2016

All of this is basically unnecessary if people actually did some exercise at relatively high intensity. This can be as simple as rapid stair climbing within an established protocol, or more formal interval and/or resistance training in a gym or health club. The time required is not very much and this only is two or three times per week plus some walking on other days and every hour or so standing up for a few minutes while working. And, the benefits of actual exercise far surpass a standing desk or treadmill desk.

Jordan Gx
September 26, 2016

I lost 50 pounds in less than 18 months using an under-the-desk treadmill as my main tool, building up from 0.6 mph (difficult) to a joyous and more comfortable 1.6 mph. I can type at 1.8 mph (up to 2.2 if just word processing as opposed to spreadsheets where 1.4-1.6 seems to be the comfortable max) and speak easily at 2.8. Handwriting requires not walking. For the first nine months I did not change my diet and did no other exercise … and lost the first 30 of those 50 pounds. I question the parsimonious mathematical assessments: 200 calories per hour (your number) for one hour per day x 17.5 days = 3,500 = one pound = more than 13 pounds per year for 240 work days … and that’s not accounting for weight and how many steps constitutes one calorie at varying weights (one might consider the Step Diet, at least for comparison sake), which could raise (or lower) that number. Still, 13 pounds is 13 pounds, and the benefits described don’t account for incrementally-improved metabolic rate (every percent counts), along with all the other incremental benefits each micro-improvement makes. The Journal you cite may be narrowly correct, but its analysis is woefully incomplete. The entire feed-forward mechanism is omitted. A stand-up desk is not a panacea, nor a single-source solution (indeed, it can create foot and back problems) but it is an important tool the benefits of which go well beyond the mere direct weight loss it may provide. Similarly for under-desk bicycles or peddlers. (I do not have any beneficial interest in any companies providing such products — I just know what has worked for me and for many of my clients.)

September 25, 2016

nice article

September 24, 2016

What do you think about back and neck issues, from sitting all day? Could the standing in the office impact these issues positively?

Kevin Flaherty
September 24, 2016

Most certainly yes. I started standing part time after having a constantly tight neck and shoulder pain that I was about to see an orthopedist for. I wasn’t sure if I’d like it, so I didn’t want to spend much money. I found Readydesk for $160 and then built a similar one out of wood as a hobby.

The results have been great! Having different posture options quickly cured my shoulders and neck without causing back issues. I do about half standing and half sitting. I bought wireless computer peripherals to make switching easier. I totally recommend trying standing for anyone with desk ergonomics issues!

Joey Callahan
September 24, 2016

I’ve read sitting for hours is the “NEW” smoking. Also, the calorie thought is based on the calories in and calories out approach. How do we measure the approach to standing with the type of calories consummed? I.E. a person using a standing desk doing LCHF vs a Vegan, vs a calorie counter?

Dr Mark Rowe
September 23, 2016

Very interesting article. From your numbers, standing burns an extra 8 calories per hour over sitting. This equates to 320 calories a week, or about 5 pounds of fat a year.
And it may also become a catalyst and tipping point for further positive health behaviours as part of an organisational wellbeing program
Best wishes
Dr Mark Rowe

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