New Research Shows Standing Desks Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

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In the past few years, standing desks have gained popularity among office employees and anyone who must spend hours sitting working on a desk. Their advantage seemed obvious, and we were advised on the many benefits a standing desk could have on our health. The Smithsonian.com listed five benefits of standing desks that sounded almost miraculous: reduced risk of obesity, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and other metabolic diseases, reduced risk of cancer, and lower long-term mortality risk.

People and corporations flocked to buy and try this new office equipment to boost their productivity while improving their health. Many were quick to sing the praises of their new standing desks. Gwynn Guilford, a writer for Quartz, reported that within a week of using her standing desk, her back pain started receding; a month on, and she had almost forgotten about it.

It almost sounds too good to be true. And apparently, it is. Guilford also reported that along with the benefits she was experiencing by working on her feet, she soon noticed her ankles becoming swollen. She described them as “canckles,” a derogatory term which is a blend of “calf” and “ankle,” and is used to shame women who have less than perfect ankles. Additionally, according to the Washington Post, new research shows that standing desks may be harmful to your productivity and your health. The study, conducted by Curtin University in Australia suggests that standing at a desk for a prolonged period of time will create “discomfort and deteriorating mental reactiveness.” The research included only 20 people, so it is not very comprehensive; however, there are other more complete studies which show the negative effects of standing too long causes back discomfort and the swelling of veins.

woman with swollen feet
Featured image credit: Phat1978Shutterstock

“The bottom line is that this expansion [of standing desks] has been driven more by commercial reasons than scientific evidence,” said Alan Taylor, a physiotherapy expert at Nottingham University. “But the evidence is catching up, and it’s showing there are some drawbacks.”

Taylor thinks that office workers should rely less on standing desks for their well-being, and instead take more walks at work.

Newsweek reported that standing at work is as unhealthy as smoking cigarettes. Researchers tracked more than 7,000 study participants in Ontario, Canada and within a 12-year period found that people who often stood at work such as cashiers, waitresses, bank tellers, and line cooks were nearly twice as likely to develop heart disease, compared to those who typically sat throughout their shifts. But people whose jobs required them to remain sitting for most of the day including secretaries, accountants, drivers, and writers didn’t fair better and were likely to experience health problems later in life.

A study published earlier this month in the Annals of Internal Medicine found a direct link between risk of early death and prolonged sitting. “I think the simple message is sit less, move more, and move frequently,” study co-author Keith Diaz wrote in an email.

Companies must find solutions to prevent long-term health problems standing or sitting all day may cause workers, just like they have found solutions for smoking in the workplace.