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Exercise for Health

Exercise for Health

Do you use a standing desk or have you seen others with one?

What the research shows.

“Stand to work if you like, but don’t brag about the benefits,” reported National Public Radio earlier this year. “Experts say your standing desk is basically useless,” echoed the Huffington Post.

True?

No. It wasn’t standing desks—but the studies of these desks that tested them—that failed.standing desks

The “studies were very poorly designed…and had very few participants,” concluded a review by the Cochrane Collaboration, a well-respected international network of scientists that systemically and rigorously evaluates scientific evidence.

The Cochrane review did not find that standing at the desks had no benefits, rather that people in the studies who had these desks stood at them for only about an hour a day. That’s not long enough for a true test of them. (Most standing desks can be easily adjusted for sitting or standing.)

“Those headlines let the public down,” says James Levine, an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic who helped develop these standing desks.

“Misleading news stories like this demoralize people who are making an effort to make themselves healthier. It’s more than getting a gym membership or going to a yoga class once a week. These people have fundamentally changed how they work every day.”

Varicose veins?

But could standing desks lead to varicose veins, as the Huffington Post suggested?

“It’s not good to stand stock-still like a British soldier outside Buckingham Palace for protracted periods of time,” counters Levine. “Blood gets congested in the veins of people who are predisposed to varicose veins.”

But standing still all day isn’t the goal.

“We want people to get up off their bottoms and move,” says Levine. “In order to move, first you have to get up. And preliminary data suggests that a standing desk helps people break up their sitting time and move more.”

It’s clear that we need much bigger, better, longer studies, he agrees. “But preliminary data suggest that these desks are a very good idea.”

Other ways of moving

What’s more, a standing desk is just one option.

“For some, it’s a standing desk, for some it’s a treadmill desk, for others it’s walk-and-talk meetings, and for some it’s none of the above,” notes Levine.

“We know that being sedentary is associated with a catalog of health complications, from diabetes and heart disease to cancer to poor cognition, and so on.”

Good for diabetes

If you have type 2 diabetes, for example, brief bouts of walking or simple strength exercises may lower blood sugar and insulin levels.

Scientists in Australia assigned 24 sedentary overweight or obese adults with diabetes to spend a day sitting for 8 hours or to break up the sitting with either a walk or with strength exercises for 3 minutes every half hour. The strength exercises were half-squats, calf raises, gluteal contractions, and knee raises.

On the days the participants did either walking or strength exercises, they had lower blood sugar, insulin, and C-peptide (a measure of insulin secretion).

Bottom Line: It’s best to get up out of our chairs and move around at least every hour or two.

Sources:  Cochrane Database Syst. Rev. 3: CD010912, 2016; Diabetes Care 39: 964, 2016.

Find this article about sitting, standing, and moving interesting and useful? Nutrition Action Healthletter subscribers regularly get sound, timely information about how nutrients can affect their health. They also receive science-based advice about diet and diabetes, heart disease, cancer, osteoarthritis, and other chronic diseases; delicious recipes; and detailed analyses of the healthy and unhealthy foods in supermarkets and restaurants. If you’re not already subscribing to the world’s most popular nutrition newsletter, click here to join hundreds of thousands of fellow health-minded consumers.

Add Your Comments

2 Comments

  1. Sandra
    Posted December 16, 2016 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    I have been using a standing desk for two years and it makes me more mindful of how easy move from one place to the other rather than wheeling myself around in my chair. I have now invested in a desk treadmill as my Christmas present to myself. It’s not yet at the office but looking forward to that too. I stand for long periods (on a comfort mat) but I need to move more so the desk and the treadmill will accomplish both when I can’t go for a lunch time walk.

  2. Jerry
    Posted December 18, 2016 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    For more than a year now I’ve stood to read the newspapers and I never sit at my computer. It took a couple or three months to build up the stamina but now it’s perfectly normal to stand except to eat or the opposite. I also lost 12 lbs. but I also gave up most wheat products at about the same time. (It’s never just one thing, is it?)

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