‘Sitting is the new smoking’ is a haunting phrase which has been buzzing around the media and health-scene. According to Dr. David Agus, leading cancer specialist, five or more hours of sedentary sitting is the health equivalent of smoking a pack and a quarter of cigarettes.  So if you’re an office-worker who spends the majority of your day sat at a desk, this extreme claim can strike up concern. So is standing at your desk the better alternative for a healthier way of working?

What are the benefits of standing? Standing naturally makes your body work physically harder, and some say this increases productivity. Experts recommend up to four hours of standing in your work day in order to keep the brain functioning productively.

Sit-stand desks are a way to alter the height of your work-space, and Cochrane researchers found that sit-stand desks reduced sitting by between 30 minutes and two hours a day, after their systematic review of 26 studies with 2,174 people. So while a significant amount of time, these results don’t quite reach the recommendation, making many question as to whether sit-stand desks are worth worrying about.

Another factor people consider when comparing sitting and standing at work is whether it burns a significant amount of calories. Simply standing at a standing desk for the recommended four-hours (half of an eight hour day), an average-sized man would burn only an extra 20kcal, and an average-sized woman would burn only a further 12kcal. Researchers note that this amount of calorie burning is not enough to prevent obesity or type-2 diabetes, as reported by The Guardian.

The Cornell Erognomics lab advises that it’s not about simply standing still, but to move about in intervals, as stated in an article by Buffer Open. They continue to say, when working at a sitting desk, it’s important to stand every 20-30 minutes, and to move when doing so; ‘Movement is important to get blood circulation through the muscles. And movement is FREE! Research shows that you don’t need to do vigorous exercise (e.g. jumping jacks) to get the benefits, just walking around is sufficient.’

Treadmill desks are also a techy option for those concerned about how much they move while working at a desk. Plos One conducted a study comparing 76 workers randomly assigned to a treadmill desk (moving at 1.5mph) to those at a standard sitting desk. It found that those sitting found it easier to concentrate, and performed better at recalling lists and mental maths than those on the treadmill desks.

Furthermore, due to less distraction from the treadmill, typing speeds were faster for those sitting. The study concludes; ’Walking on a treadmill desk may result in a modest difference in total learning and typing outcomes relative to sitting, but those declines may not outweigh the benefit of the physical activity gains from walking on a treadmill.’

Either way, if you sit at a desk it’s advised to move at some point, with health guidelines at 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Whether it’s a few breaks from your comfy office chair to grab a cup of coffee or something from next door’s printer, sitting-desks are the most favourable, and there are ways to be active.

Standing or adjustable sit-stand desks are great for those who perhaps only have a task which will take them less than 5 minutes, and for those who have more than one workspace and need to frequently move around. However one study did show that those with sit-stand desks only stand for around 20% of the time, posing the question again of whether it’s worth it, over a standard sitting desk.

Treadmill desks are for the health-enthusiasts, and those convinced by Dr. David Agus’s extreme claims comparing sitting doing as much harm as smoking.

Some prefer sitting to standing and vice versa, and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. In the end it comes down to what works for the individual to increase or maintain productivity at work.

Laura Sewell

An aspiring journalist, Laura is our content writer intern.  Pop-punk gig-goer and drag queen enthusiast, Laura is working her way into the industry, with an English A -Level and love of writing about anything and everything in tow.
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