Sit down already: standing desks aren't healthier than seated ones

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Thankyou @doctorow. Unlike @frauenfelder, you actually perform some critical inquiry before posting the conclusions of studies performed by third parties.


“a-doy” - waitresses and nurses
“ooohhhh the validation” - me


hopefully this is the beginning of the end for the standing desk fad.


But hold your horses, standing desk haters. It doesn’t sound like this study conclusively refutes the idea that standing desks are better than seated desks as a direct substitution.

It is logical that “inactive standing” is not massively advantageous to sitting, which is inherently inactive. It probably depends on just how inactive your standing tasks actually are a given standing desk, and how active you are at baseline outside of work.

The study seems to have asked a lot of people how much time they spent standing at work (along with some other things) and looked at their comparative mortality.

Because this was over a period of time in the past when standing desks (as a direct replacement for seated desk in work environments where seated desks are the norm) were not yet very popular, it seems unlikely that many of the respondents who reported standing in a stationary way at work were doing so at “standing desks” as we know them today. Rather, they are likely people in “traditionally” standing occupations.

The question “does replacing a traditional seated desk with a standing desk reduce mortality?” may involve more subtle advantages than this.

I see that many of the people in the study were already thought to be somewhat active, rather than sedentary, by virtue of the predominant commuting patterns in their area, which could tend to obscure the gains from small increases in activity…

Anyway, I suppose it’s more fun to rush to judgment :smile:


I’ve always thought the sitting/standing desks thing was entirely dependant on the individual person.

Taking an example from my family: My dad cannot sit down for long periods without ending up in serious pain, but is quite happy standing for extended periods.
Myself, am the exact opposite. I can happily sit down all day (or walk around all day even) but standing still for more than an hour or two absolutely cripples my knees, to the point where i need to sit down before i fall down… An old job at a supermarket where they made you stand at the till for the entire shift was like extreme torture for me.


Full disclosure: after a herniated disc, I have been using a standing desk at work for several years and have found it beneficial. Now that I am somewhat recovered, I sit and stand in approximately equal measures (at first I could only stand or lie down).

For me I think the benefit is that being able to work comfortably and stay out of a totally sedentary position helps me feel good and seems to make me more likely to get up and move around during the day. Being seated tends to promote remaining seated, all day long. Standing to work, I am more likely to walk somewhere and talk to a colleague instead of sending an email, go to the water cooler, or go for a stroll on my lunch. I also feel more energized after work and have found myself to be more active after office hours. So at least for me I think there is a link between standing at work and activity, even if the standing itself is relatively “inactive”.

I would suspect that in “traditionally standing” occupations such as pharmacist, assembly line work, waitstaff, etc., the fact that you have less control or ability to walk somewhere at will reduces these activity benefits in both the physical and psychological sense. I would guess that this does contribute, over the medium- to long-term, to mortality.


This. Anyone who’s ever worked a cashier job can tell you how much standing in one spot for 8 hours really sucks.



I think the reason people adopted standing desks so fast (and why some here are eager for a backlash) is that people just want a magic bullet, and are disappointed when something doesn’t become one. Honestly the problem is just that we are doing one thing without stopping for 10 hours a day - sitting, standing, whatever, and that isn’t healthy. We are all looking for some way to make the 50+ hour workweek a healthy enterprise, and it just isn’t going to happen.

Actual long term users of standing desks like myself tend to use it as an opportunity to vary position regularly, sit/perch/stand at various times, walk to coworkers instead of email (as you note), etc. It has more subtle benefits than just “standing is healthier than sitting”, in the same way that broccoli is healthier than pork rinds, but a diet consisting of 100% of either would be equally unadvised.


Is there a study that’d look at the association of living and dying?


I had a summer job in a factory where we weren’t allowed to sit down at all.

I think if people are sitting down the law is you have to heat the factory more.

I’d still like a convertible desk, though.

I’m sitting right now, in a chair no less.

I’m not surprised at these conclusions - anybody with half a brain knows that standing motionless for hours on end is not really any better than sitting motionless. My own anecdotal experience tells me that I don’t just stand still though - I find myself pacing around, standing on one leg, stretching, kneeling on my chair, etc. - so I am definitely getting more movement throughout the day vs. sitting. As a result, I definitely feel more energized instead of lethargic.

It’s not a replacement for exercise for sure, but it’s not supposed to be either.


Taking things to extremes, I remember this article last year.

It’s not more comfortable for me, but I’m starting to prefer it because I think better when I can pace. It’s harder to do if you have to sit back down and get back up every time. my only problem is that already built a sitting desk a while back and after the time I put into it, I’m a little invested and haven’t had the time to built a riser that I can set down on top of the desk. I refuse to pay $40 for something I can build with a little wood and electricity that I already have.

It does suck. As much as I think pacing helps me think, I’m not stuck standing in one spot. At my current job, I’m not stuck behind the register most of the time, so I can walk around the sales floor. When we’re short staffed, I hate having to stand behind the register all day.

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Studies have shown that 100% of all dead people were alive immediately prior to their death.

A counter-study, on the other hand, found that 100% of people who were alive across a five year period were not dead.


It looks like interesting correlations. More research is needed. And don’t forget the oversight committee…


I can’t imagine that subjecting people to the conditions of “life” would ever pass an ethics board…



I use a standing desk, but that’s basically because I’m a terrible slouch. After a few days at a desk by back gets really messed up. Using a standing desk pretty much solved that. It has the added advantage that it gives me more scope to move around and use my legs. If I sit for a long time I generally find my knees start to get stiff (if there is one part of my teenage body I’d have back it would be the knees).

But I’ve always been very sceptical that standing in and of itself was somehow beneficial to general health. I certainly haven’t notice anything beyond the biomechanics of better back muscles and posture.

The idea of standing desks, like so many other things, got seized on by some as a magic bullet for all your ills, when it’s just one aspect of workplace health and the benefits are highly dependent on the person and the context.

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Likewise for factory workers. But the key in both cases is that you are fixed in one place and expected to stay there for long periods.

My wife is a teacher and spends the majority of her day on her feet (the teachers have lecturns not desks), but the important distinction is that she is moving around a lot. She doesn’t seem to suffer from that at all.