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New Research Reignites Debate Over Stand Up and Sit-down Desk

06 May 2021

Researchers are saying standing up burns more calories than sitting down, but the number of benefits still varies from study to study. The debate over the benefits of adjustable standing desks still rages on with the latest research strongly supporting the notion of staying on your feet.

A recent study in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology reported that standing for six hours a day instead of sitting not only prevents weight gain but also can help people lose some weight. The researchers analyzed more than 46 studies, covering 1,184 people. The average person was 33 years old.  60 percent of the participants were male and have an average weight of 143 pounds. It was found that standing burned 0.15 calories more per minute compared to sitting. Thus, if a 143-pound person stood for six hours a day instead of sitting, they would burn an extra 54 calories a day.

Also, the muscle activity from standing can be linked with lower risks for strokes and heart attacks. Researchers said people burn even more calories standing because they’re moving while standing.

“Based on the result of our study, standing for sure burns more calories than sitting, and the reason is that the number and volume of the muscles that an individual uses [while] standing are higher than sitting,” Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, chief of preventive cardiology at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and senior author of the study, said in a statement.

On the other hand, there’s a ton of conclusions from recent studies which involve the health implications of standing for long periods of time. A 2017 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, for example, concludes that people who primarily stand for long periods of time during the day are twice as likely to have heart disease.

Sitting too long has also been linked to a higher risk of earlier death, although other studies still have to establish a significant link to it.

Sit or Stand? Science still not decided

Researchers in the latest study are adamant about their conclusions. It is worth noting that standing for extended periods of time isn’t good for all people, especially those with joint or vascular issues. People should still regularly stand up from prolonged sitting durations to walk out the stiff joints.

Aside from the problem of too much standing, the science is still undecided on whether standing versus sitting can actually help people burn more calories or lose weight.

A study published the year before in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health said that substituting periods of sitting or standing with walking increased calorie burn significantly, but replacing standing instead of sitting may not affect the energy expenditure. Those researchers insist that the advantages of standing as opposed to that sitting need to be further researched.

So, is sitting very bad for us?

Dr. Peter Ottone, DC, a chiropractor from New Jersey, said that weight gain and carpal tunnel syndrome along with shoulder, back, and neck pain are conditions that can be affected by standing and sitting. Researchers’ conclusions depend on many factors, including preexisting spinal conditions, time spent in each posture, and specific weight-bearing tendencies for the individual, among other things. It is suggested there is an increase in load on lumbar discs with sitting more than standing up, Ottone said.

“One less frequently discussed variable that makes sitting for extended periods damaging to the spine is the sustained contracture of the abdominal and hamstring muscles and the imbalance this creates affecting the mechanics of the lower back,” Ottone explained, “using a standing desk, even for a portion of a workday, can minimize this imbalance and help maintain better spinal alignment and muscle symmetry.”

Don’t assume that a standing desk will cure you of all the discomforts that can come with sitting at a desk throughout the day.

“Just like sitting and leaning forward for extended periods can increase pressure on the back, the same applies to standing with poor ergonomics,” Ottone said. Maintaining good posture and taking frequent breaks is the best way to ensure you’re standing or sitting optimally.

New science on sitting vs. standing

Lopez-Jimenez said his study was the first systematic review and meta-analysis done about this subject, therefore, the reliability and validity have much more influence than the previous studies. “This study shows the exact difference between sitting and standing in terms of the amount of energy expenditure in the general population and also in different genders,” he explained.

Changing to a standing desk isn’t the only alternative to ensure we stand more. Watching television or playing games while standing is also a good way to get in more exercise with our feet, Lopez-Jimenez said. As for whether or not to use a standing desk, Ottone believes they can be a good investment.

“My feeling is that using a standing desk is a sound philosophy and will be recommended by back specialists much more frequently as more research is available,” he said.

Bethany Barone Gibbs, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh who has studied standing and sitting, said good standing desk ergonomics are essential to ensure you’re standing the smart way.

“Simple things like not wearing high heels or swapping out for flats or slippers while at the desk if needed, having the top of the computer screen at about eye level, and varying posture (sit-to-stand) often are important for other types of outcomes like pain and fatigue,” she noted.

If you can’t stand for long periods of time, you can still take regular breaks and maintain good posture if you’re still can’t help sitting at a desk.

“Quite a few studies have shown that a single day of breaking up sitting with standing or short walks seems to have a beneficial effect on health parameters like blood sugar control, blood pressure, and feelings of pain and fatigue,” Barone Gibbs added.

Whether sitting, standing, or doing both, it looks like we can all find some sort of balance to achieve a healthy life.

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