In recent years working in an office environment has been noted to have an association with a variety of negative health outcomes. Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and obesity-related issues are noted to be much more common in occupations where individuals spend the majority of their work day seated (Castillo-Retamal and Hinckson 2011; Chau, van der Ploeg et al. 2012). Researchers point to the reduced level of physical activity in an office work place, and have suggested improved health and wellness may be achieved by increasing energy expenditure while at work.
This has led to the proliferation of a number of devices and changes in furniture to allow improvements in movement and activity at the workplace. The most commonly requested furniture change we encounter at EWI Works is a request to change to using a height adaptable sit-stand desk, so that workers can perform office tasks in a standing position. While there are benefits to standing at work for individuals with specific musculoskeletal issues (sciatica, pinched nerves, herniated discs, etc), there have been increased reports in the media that standing at work can increase your activity at the workplace and be a cardiovascular benefit. But, are these reports accurate?
There is limited evidence to support a physical activity increase from standing during office work. One published article evaluating energy expenditure for seated and standing positions reports there is no significant difference between the positions (Speck and Schmitz 2011). A review article evaluating a wider base of evidence and office working postures states that the evidence clearly shows that sit-stand desks alone will not provide meaningful increases in energy expenditure (Tudor-Locke, Schuna, Frensham and Proenca 2013).
While adapting between sitting and standing posture may provide improvement in comfort in various body regions, promoting their benefit to “physical activity and cardiovascular health” is false advertizing. There are often cases where we will recommend a sit-stand desk to help with an individual’s musculoskeletal disorder or discomfort, but never as a mean of increasing activity. Increases displacement and movement at the workplace is more likely to provide tangible benefits to an individual’s activity levels.
Castillo-Retamal, M. and E. A. Hinckson (2011). “Measuring physical activity and sedentary behaviour at work: A review.” Work-a Journal of Prevention Assessment & Rehabilitation 40(4): 345-357.
Chau, J. Y., H. P. van der Ploeg, et al. (2012). “Cross-sectional associations between occupational and leisure-time sitting, physical activity and obesity in working adults.” Preventive Medicine 54(3-4): 195-200.
Speck, R. M. and K. H. Schmitz (2011). “Energy expenditure comparison: A pilot study of standing instead of sitting at work for obesity prevention.” Preventive Medicine 52(3-4): 283-284.