By now you're sick of hearing that sitting is the new smoking. Yes, being sedentary all the time ain't great. But standing all the time doesn't make up for it.

A growing body of research suggests that many of the benefits claimed by standing desk evangelists are overblown. Simply put, there's no substitute for good, old fashioned exercise.

The sedentary epidemic is real

It's true that people spend a lot of time sitting -- increasingly too much. Whether you're sitting behind a computer all day at work or loafing around on the couch when you get home, we seem to be moving less and less. Cue the image from Wall-E of lazy, overweight humans floating around in hover chairs.

We spend a lot of time sitting in traffic, too. As housing prices skyrocket in urban areas, many workers are having to move further out to find more affordable housing, which extends their commutes. In especially high-rent areas like San Francisco, it's not uncommon for people to spend three or four hours a day commuting.

Standing all the time isn't all that good

But that doesn't mean a standing desk is the solve to a sedentary lifestyle. New York Times' Upshot column examined some of these claims. Health columnist Aaron E. Carroll points to a few misleading studies. Though the research seems unified that sitting all day is poor for one's health, there's no definitive research that standing counteracts it.

Many of these studies tend to focus only on the negative effects of sitting and the positive results of standing. Good science would explore all angles. Could sitting have positive results? Could standing have negative results?

Some research says that standing all day isn't good for you. One study that involved nearly 40,000 participants found that standing or walking at work for more than six hours a day was associated with needing surgery for varicose veins. Standing for these prolonged periods doubled and in some cases tripled people's need for surgery. Another study of 7,000 people over 12 years found people who primarily stood at work had double the risk of heart disease as sitting workers.

However, working a job that requires standing all day could be associated with socioeconomic status. Other factors likely come into play that affect someone's health -- like access to healthy food, healthcare services or even the area code where you live.

The calorie burning myth

But wait, isn't standing supposed to burn more calories than sitting? Technically yes. But you can count on two hands how many more calories it burns. A Harvard study found people only burned eight calories more per hour standing than when they were sitting. You could use a standing desk for three hours and burn 24 more calories. The researchers aptly point out that's about the same number of calories in a carrot. But if went for a walk on your 30-minute lunch break, you'd burn 100.

Instead of standing breaks, walk it out

If you like your standing desk, Carroll doesn't see any issue with keeping it. Just don't expect that it's substitute for exercise. What matters most is that you get moving and don't stay in one spot all day long.

He recommends the tried-and-true walking break to get moving throughout your work day. Take the stairs, schedule walking meetings, and make a point to get outside at least once a day. Just 10 minutes of walking a day has brain-boosting benefits.

Instead of investing in a pricey standing desk, it might be worth spending several hundred dollars less on a pair of gym shoes to keep under your desk. ​

Published on: Nov 27, 2018
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