The Sunday Magazine

There is little evidence that standing desks make you healthier or help you lose weight

Though standing desks are now ubiquitous in the country's offices, one doctor says there's 'not much evidence' that making the switch has a positive impact on health.
Standing desks are increasingly popular in Canada's offices, but are they really better for your health than sitting all day? (Getty Images )

With growing concern that sitting is bad for our health, sales of standing desks have been on the upswing.

If sitting can cause health problems like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, the logic goes, surely a standing desk can hold them at bay? 

That optimism is evident in the sales numbers, with one market report predicting a double-digit growth rate for standing desks over the next five years, with sales of almost $3 billion by 2025.

But is it really better to stand all day, rather than sit? Can standing make you healthier, or help you lose weight?

Dr. Aaron Carroll isn't so sure. 
Dr. Aaron Carroll says there's not much evidence to suggest that standing desks have a real impact on health. (Submitted by Aaron Carroll)
"There's just not much evidence that that's the case," said Carroll, who is the director of the Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research at the Indiana University School of Medicine. 

"In fact, there's very little evidence at all that switching people from sitting to standing desks makes much of a difference on anyone's health," he said. 

With the proliferation of reports about the hazards of sitting, Carroll can understand why people think standing is better, but says that the connection between poor health and sitting isn't always so simple.  

"We're trying to argue somehow that it's the sitting that makes people unhealthy, instead of saying that perhaps people who are otherwise unhealthy or poor or unemployed or who have other issues are sitting a lot, and that's what's making them unhealthy, not necessarily the sitting," he said.

Standing is not exercise

Standing is not exercise, and jobs that require people to spend most of their day standing often tend to be unhealthier, Carroll said. 

"Just standing doesn't get you the same kinds of benefits or health effects that exercising would," he said. "Secondly, there's not a lot of great evidence to show that exercise is the way to lose weight. Most of the way that people lose weight has much more to do with what they're eating and nutrition than it does with exercise." 

While standing does not bring the health benefits people think, Carroll says it is important to get up and move during the day.

"People need to get up every once in a while, walk around and be active," he said. "There's probably a bunch of reasons that might be a good idea, the least of which is weight loss. It might actually clear your head, it might provide you with a better work environment, it might improve your mood. All of those things are great."

Carroll says his goal isn't to talk people out of standing desks altogether. 

"If you find that using a standing desk helps you in a personal way, it relieves pain, it makes you more comfortable, by all means do it," he said.

"I just think that as a policy it's problematic, especially if people don't want to do it, find that it hurts them or find that it's very expensive. There's just not much reason to do it, unless you're deriving a personal benefit."

Click 'listen' above to hear the interview. 


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