Standing desks fail to provide the health benefits they promote, Edmonton ergonomics expert says

Fans of the standing desk should take a walk, says a University of Alberta ergonomics expert.

'It may be fatiguing, but it's certainly not exercise'

Standing in the office may be just as bad for your health as sitting, says Edmonton-based ergonomics expert Linda Miller. (Getty Images )

Fans of the standing desk should take a walk, says a University of Alberta ergonomics expert.

Standing upright instead of sitting within the confines of a cubicle may not be as healthy as advertised, said Linda Miller, an adjunct professor with the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.

"I have people now say 'That is my exercise,'" Miller said in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active. "It may be fatiguing, but it's certainly not exercise.

"It's not giving us what we need to keep our heart health and just keep us generally healthy."

Standing desks have been hailed as a healthier, more ergonomic option for office-dwellers who spend hours hunched over their keyboards.They have been lauded as a way to correct posture and help curb the risks of prolonged sitting.

Despite the ongoing trend toward adopting the adjustable desks, there's little solid evidence to support their use, Miller said.

Standing desks may be doing more harm than good, she said.

Poor posture problems

Slouching often happens while sitting, but it also often happens while standing, so a raised workspace isn't going to solve the health problems caused by a sedentary lifestyle, Miller said.

"People will use a standing desk, but they will still have very poor posture," Miller said.

Sitting in a well-designed chair is better for the body than standing for too long at a raised desk, she said.

"The problem is, people will think they're achieving good posture just by standing there, but we have to look at where the arms are, as well as where the upper part of the back and neck are.

"People will try to stabilize themselves, so they'll lock their knees or they'll lock their hips. That creates even more stress on the joints."

Office furniture is not the answer

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, Canadian office workers spend up to 80 per cent of working hours in prolonged sitting periods.

That has led to the notion of a "sitting disease," when the real problem is physical inactivity, Miller said.

People who insist on using a standing desk should switch back and forth between sitting and standing positions several times throughout their work day, she said.

"It's still a prolonged posture," Miller said.

"There is no real movement that is taking place, we're just changing the position. So we can have a lot of fatigue developing in the legs or the lower back where we're often trying to alleviate discomfort."

Those hoping to make their workspace more ergonomic should ensure their mouse and keyboard are at elbow height, and adjust their monitors to eye level, Miller said.

Her biggest piece of advice for cubicle dwellers is to get up and move around or to take a short walk every hour.

Listen to Radio Active with host Portia Clark, weekday afternoons on CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM/740 AM in Edmonton. Follow the show on Twitter: @CBCRadioActive.