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Could Standing Desks Actually Lead to More Sitting?


In the last few years, we’ve been bombarded with warnings about the dangers of sitting too much. We’ve heard that even if you exercise, prolonged periods of sitting can kill you. We know that, even if do we manage to escape premature sitting-induced death, those of us who sit too much are more likely to develop heart disease and diabetes. We’ve even heard sitting compared with some of the unhealthiest “habits” out there – most notably, that sitting is the new smoking.

standing desk

(Photo Credit: jsmjr/Flickr)

“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting,” says Dr. James Levine, inventor of the treadmill desk and director of the Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative. “We are sitting ourselves to death.”

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So, what is the proactive, health-conscious office worker to do? Well, for many people, trying to find alternative to sitting so darn much is action item number one. And, a plethora of inventions and products have flooded the market to help us out. Bicycle desks, fitness trackers (activity bands), exercise balls, and standing desks, just to name a few, provide a ton of options to choose from when taking a stand against sitting.

“For the eight weeks I used that desk, I felt like a million bucks,” said Chris Spurlock of The Huffington Post. “Sure, I got some funny looks from my co-workers, but overall it was an amazing experience. Not only was I feeling healthier and more energized, but it gave me an opportunity to meet new people and tell them about the dangers of sitting all day.”

So, has sitting less at work meant healthier lives in the office and after hours? It turns out, maybe not.

Researchers from Loughborough University in the U.K. studied the behavioral changes of a group of office workers who recently switched to standing desks. What they observed is something they’ve dubbed the compensation effect. Here’s what you need to know.

1. People sat more in the evenings after switching to standing desks.

The researchers used fitness trackers to establish a baseline for their subjects before switching them over to standing desks. Then, they compared data before and after the change was made. The results were clear – although folks were standing more during the day, the sat more in the evenings, which negated some of the effects.

2. Due to the compensation effect, standing desks didn’t make a huge difference in overall activity levels.

In terms of activity, subjects only sat an average of 44 minutes less each day after switching over to standing desks. They sat more in the evenings than they had before making the switch, and they only spent 20 percent less time sitting during working hours as well.

3. Researchers recommend awareness.

The researchers behind this study don’t recommend shying away from these sitting alternatives (after all, they did have a somewhat positive effect) but instead suggest that we be more conscious of the compensation effect throughout the day.

“For those using sit-to-stand workstations, it is recommended that individuals consciously think about ways they can reduce their sitting time outside of work, so as to avoid undoing any beneficial effects of reduced sitting at work,” said Stacy Clemes, one of the study’s authors.

For more information, take a look at the study. And, consider running your own tests and sharing the results in the comments section below.

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How has using a standing desk changed your overall activity level? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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