The Standing Desk: Separating Fact from Fiction

If you work in a corporate office, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen someone working at a standing desk. If not though, then let’s start with what a standing desk is: in short, it is simply a desk that is elevated higher than normal, allowing someone to work from said desk while standing up. That’s all there is to it, from a physical standpoint. However, that doesn’t necessarily answer the question of why people may want to be using a standing desk. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation on the subject, so we figured we’d discuss the true nature of standing desks, allowing you to decide for yourself whether it is right for you.

To start, we definitely need to talk about a longstanding belief about standing desks: that they help you burn calories and essentially lose weight. Unfortunately that is definitely more fiction than fact. Admittedly, standing rather than sitting does burn a few extra calories over the course of an entire work day. Without going too deep into the numbers, studies have shown that standing rather than sitting for an hour will burn less than 10 additional calories. Extrapolate that over an entire work day and you have 80 additional calories burned, max.

Now if you aren’t much of a calorie counter, you may think this is a pretty nice benefit. However, it is important to realize that in order to burn a single pound of fat, you need to burn 3500 calories more than you take in (generally speaking, as it depends on the person’s unique physiology). Even if you were to stand up at your desk for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 4 weeks (i.e. approximately one month), you would only technically burn less than half a pound of fat. And that’s just assuming everything else is equal. But as is often the case, making slight changes to your day can easily be offset by unnoticed changes in your diet. In other words, even if you end up standing up at work, you may end up eating just a little bit more at lunch each day, causing any potential weight loss gains negligible.

In short, you should not be relying on a standing desk to help you lose weight. Yes, you could potentially lose a few pounds over the course of a few months, but even then, you could just as easily see no change in weight whatsoever (if not outright gaining a few pounds). If you really want to find ways to lose weight while at work, taking a simple 30-minute walk after lunch will be much more effective than a standing desk. So if standing desks are really not all that good at helping you shed a few pounds, what are they actually good for?

In short, they are great for relieving yourself of back and neck pain. If you’ve ever sat at a desk for many hours at a time, especially without getting up at all to stretch, you probably already know firsthand how back and neck pain can creep up over time. For a lot of men and women who experience this sort of pain while sitting at their desks all day, most of them either report the pain going away with a quick break to walk to the bathroom or stretch themselves out. Or they’ll note that the pain persists until they go to bed but when they wake up they feel perfectly fine. In the short term, this sort of treatment of back pain is tolerable, but if left unchecked it can truly worsen to the point of no return. Think serious and permanent back complications or neck issues as you get up there in age. Rather than just hoping such issues never occur to themselves personally, people are increasingly taking a more proactive approach to taking care of their bodies, especially in a work context.

This is where standing desks come into play and ultimately truly shine. While sitting (especially in awkward positions) over long periods of time put added strain on your back and neck, standing almost completely eliminates such issues. As a result, you no longer have any chronic back or neck pain, and also substantially lower your risk of developing more severe conditions in the future, assuming you maintain the use of a standing desk for the long haul.

If you are someone who needs to keep an eye on their blood sugar levels, a standing desk also has a distinct (albeit relatively minor) advantage as well. This advantage comes from the fact that after a meal, blood sugar levels typically return to normal much faster when the person has been standing all day. So if you utilize a standing desk, your blood sugar levels will remain more stable throughout the day, even after your lunch.

All in all, standing desks are a net positive on your overall physical health and wellbeing. However, there are some things to keep in mind before moving forward with this potentially life-changing desk style. For one, note that in most cases, a desk needs to have physical modifications done in order to elevate high enough for someone to stand in front of, meaning you may need to purchase a new desk entirely or depending on what company you work at, get the assistance of a professional to modify your desk for you. In addition, note that there may be a bit of a struggle early on being able to stand up all day. If you start experiencing fatigue (primarily in the legs and feet) while standing for the first time, don’t fret and simply take a break. Gradually you should be able to stand up longer and longer, until eventually you are able to stand up all day without any sort of negative side effects. However, if you do still have mild pain in your legs or feet after a few days or weeks of utilizing a standing desk exclusively, there is probably nothing you can really do about it, other than to take a few breaks throughout the day to either walk it off or sit down somewhere and reduce the stress being exerted on those areas for a few minutes at a time.

When it is all said and done though, ultimately deciding whether a standing desk is right for you personally comes down to this: if you are trying to eliminate back and neck pain due to constantly sitting at your desk for long hours at work, then a standing desk is a great option for you. If you are diabetic or have some other similar health concerns regarding your blood sugar levels, even more of a reason to utilize a standing desk. But if you are hoping that a standing desk will help you lose weight, you are most likely going to be vastly disappointed with the results (or more appropriately the lack thereof). If you do in fact decide that the standing desk is right for you, all I can say with any certainty is that your back and neck will definitely thank you for it!