Are there legitimate medical reasons for a standing desks, and could there one day be a future where doctors give a prescription for a standing desk?
It's not a ridiculous idea.
As you probably know, there is an abundance of research suggesting that our overly-sedentary lifestyles have lead to a multitude of health problems. Some have even gone so far as to state that "Sitting is the new smoking."
That point might seem like sensationalism on the surface, but there was a reason that the comparison was made. When we consider the wide array of health issues that have been researched and linked to sitting, it's not hard to understand that excessive sitting is the public health crisis of our modern era.
And unfortunately it's not small problem. Consider the following stats:
It only takes 30 minutes of sitting to begin negatively impacting your health (including dropping your metabolism by as much as 90%). So imagine what 10 hours a day is going to do to your health!
In this article, we're going to specifically review the research on how all this sitting effects our risk of 3 of our most common chronic diseases - heart disease, diabetes and cancer - and how a simple purchase of a standing desk can help.
Let’s try not to over-complicate this. To keep a healthy heart, it’s imperative that you move throughout the day. The more time you spend sedentary, the greater your risk of heart disease. It’s that simple.
One recent study published in 2019, specifically demonstrated and quantified the connection between sitting for long periods and the risk of heart disease.
In this study, researchers gave female participants accelerometers that tracked active vs. sedentary time (a replication method from other reviews) over a period of 5 years.
Unsurprisingly, the study found that sitting for long periods is a major risk factor for heart disease. In fact, it was determined that each additional hour of sedentary time (per day) was associated with a 12% increase in multivariable-adjusted risk for Cardiovascular Disease (CVD).
To quote the study directly:
“a 1-hour reduction in sedentary time could reduce CVD risk by 12% for women who are typically sedentary for 8 hour per day”
But can standing be a risk factor for heart disease, as well?
Yes it can… but...
Once again, it’s important that we dig a little deeper on this concept, and understand the nuance of this point.
Research “standing desks and heart disease”, and you’re likely to find a variety of evidence that standing can also be a risk factor for heart disease.
The problem is that many of the articles you will find will site these studies (such as this 2017 study) as evidence why “using a standing desk is just as bad as sitting all day.”
Don’t be fooled by these misleading hot takes.
All of these studies are in specific reference to workers who spend their entire work day standing. Standing ALL DAY can absolutely increase your risk of heart disease, but that's not what you're going to do with a standing desk.
The truth is that 99% of standing desks are height adjustable between sitting and standing. You’re never going to stand for 8-12 hours a day in front of a standing desk (aka: sit to stand desk). As long as you use your desk properly, and alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day, these studies should have no bearing on you.
Use a standing desk properly to reduce your sedentary time in your day, and help improve your heart health.
Yet another important study on the connection between sedentary behavior and chronic disease, found that more than half the average person's waking hours are spent sitting. Sitting at work, sitting while commuting, sitting while eating, sitting while watching T.V... more than half of the average 24 hour period is spent sitting!
And the study found that people who sat for the greatest length of time were 2x as likely to have diabetes (and heart disease), compared to those that minimized their time spent sitting.
And to make things worse, it was determined that regular exercise was not enough to offset the effects.
The problem is that excessive sitting hinders the insulin in your body from processing sugars properly. This can lower blood sugar levels, slow down metabolism, and ultimately lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
As with other preventable diseases, increasing movement throughout the day is key - and this is especially true for people tied to their desks all day. There are several ways to get up and moving, including adding a standing desk to your workspace.
At a minimum Dr. Thomas Yates (lead researcher on the study) recommends that we try to stand for 2 minutes, for every 20 minutes we spend sitting.
There is also of plenty of research showing that over-sitting can also increase the risk of colon, breast, and endometrial cancers (among others) - such as this meta study published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, which states that excessive sitting may increase the risk of certain cancers by as much as 66%.
In fact, researchers from the American Cancer Society found significant results with women that spend over 6 hours or more of free time sitting. They found that they have a higher risk of getting cancer than women that spend less than 3 hours of free time sitting.
The study analyzed 77,462 women enrolled in the American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort and followed them for an average of 15.8 years. By the end of the study, women who were sitting 6 hours or more a day during free time had a:
...when compared to women who spent less than 3 hours per day sitting.
To reduce the risk of cancer from over-sitting, The American Cancer Society makes the following recommendations:
One of the lesser known risks of excessive sitting and a sedentary lifestyle is Chronic Kidney Disease (CDK). CDK is a predecessor to several other health problems - such as anemia, bone disease, heart disease, and more - and not something to be taken lightly.
According to the American Journal of Kidney Disease, lower levels of sitting time are strongly associated with a lower risk of CKD - especially for women.
When it comes to avoiding CKD, the advice is the same. Invest in a sit-stand desk, reduce the amount of time you sit, and move more.
If there is a key theme for us to take away from all of this research, it’s the importance of reducing the time we spent sitting and sedentary. Our bodies were meant to move, and when we sit for too long, our biological systems simply can’t operate the way they are meant to. As our systems slow down and fail, our risk of disease goes up… dramatically.
And even if we add regular exercise into our daily routines, it simply isn’t enough to offset 8-12 hours of sitting.
We need to move more!
Adding a standing desk to your office is so easy - especially compared to some of the fitness programs, diets and medical treatments so many of us try. If it can make such a huge difference in our health, why wouldn’t we try it?!
Thankfully, you won’t need a doctor’s note for a standing desk, in order to experience all the health benefits!
*Click here to learn more about all the great benefits of using a standing desk, including how it can help improve your mental focus and reduce stress and anxiety.
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