Lately there has been an explosion of stand-up desks at our office. Old-fashioned sit-down desks — the kind that I use — are increasingly being replaced by adjustable desks that allow you to move your computer from a desktop location to stand-height. I’ve gotten used to walking past offices and seeing people standing rigidly behind their desks, starting at their computer screens and clicking on their mouses.
Several people in our office have gone even farther, and opted for non-adjustable, permanent stand-up desks — but even that might not be enough for the true believers. The last time I was in the office of the Biking Brewer, for example, he not only had a permanent stand-up desk, he had no chairs of any kind in his workspace, explaining that if he had a chair he might be tempted to sit in it. So, the last time I stopped in to talk, I ended up kind of perching on a narrow window ledge during our conversation.
If you ask the stand-up crew why they’ve chosen these new desks, the inevitable response is “because it’s healthier.” You’ll hear about burning more calories by standing than sitting, and avoiding heart and back problems, and enhancing bone density, but all of the rationales asserts that stand-up desks are healthier than sit-down desks.
Not so fast!
Researchers are starting to question whether the stand-up desks — or for that matter treadmill desks, or exercise-bike desks — really make an appreciable difference. The studies that purport to show that stand-up desks make a positive health difference have been found to be small and poorly designed, and health researchers note that standing for long period can have adverse health consequences — like causing enlarged veins. Enlarged veins? That sounds vaguely disgusting.
Of course, people should try to move around at work. Take the stairs rather than the elevator. Consider whether you should walk to a co-worker’s office rather than sending an email or making a call. Get away from your desk and walk during the noon hour. But let’s have a little skepticism about studies that purport to show that stand-up desks are the key to office good health.
In fact, the health researchers quoted in the news article linked above says that most of impetus for stand-up desks right now is that they are “fashionable.” I’ll say! But I’ll gladly resist the trend and just plop my keister down in my comfortable chair at my desk before I get to work.