HomeArticlesMatt Weik

Sit-Stand Desks Worth the Hype?

by Matt Weik

Many people these days sit behind a desk all day banging on their keyboards. Very seldom do they find time to get up from their desk to walk around—generally only getting up to use the restroom or grab lunch (if they don’t eat at their desk). With the advent of the sit-stand desk, the theory behind them is that you can burn more calories throughout the day along with other health benefits, but are they worth the steep price?

Weight Loss

In terms of the claim that they help manage weight by burning more calories, that’s actually negligible. According to the University of Pittsburgh, we are talking about burning an extra 48-57 calories each day—nothing to write home about, to be honest. While burning SOME calories is better than not burning any at all, if you purchase a sit-stand desk in hopes of dropping weight, you will be disappointed.

If you want to shell out the several hundreds of dollars on this desk, why not save your money and simply stand up throughout the day, go for a quick walk to grab a drink, go to the restroom, walk to an associate’s office rather than email them, stretch in the middle of the day, and even use your lunch break to go for a walk? In addition to those examples, park in the back of the parking lot and walk rather than parking as close as possible to the office door. Or rather than taking the elevator up and down (if you have one in your office building), take the stairs.

There are minor changes that you can make in your daily routine that can add up to a fair number of calories burned rather than burning minimal calories by fluctuating between sitting and standing to work at your desk.

Energy Levels

How about energy levels? This is actually where there may be some merit to the purpose. But again, is the lemon worth the squeeze? It’s well known that if you sit all day, your energy levels suffer. You’re getting decreased blood flow throughout your body from long periods of sitting, which could lead to cognitive issues leaving you in a mental fog for parts of the day that ultimately crush your productivity. So, if you feel like you’re slowly slipping into a full-on brain fart, the sit-stand desk might be what you’re in need of. Or, keep that nice mahogany desk you have and simply get a little more active during the day.

There’s no reason to be a slave to your computer all day long. If you need to ask someone in your office a question, rather than calling them, walk over to their desk/office and ask. No employer should expect you to be tied to your office chair all day long and not move from your seat—if they do, consider finding a new place of employment. Otherwise, get up and stretch, move around, and give your brain a quick break while you increase blood flow. You’ll notice your energy levels going up, and you’ll feel slightly refreshed and ready to get back to work.

What Does the Research Say?

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are saying, “Sit-stand desks are an easy way to get a boost in energy expenditure that fits into America’s current office culture. By combining the act of standing for part of the day with other casual activities—say, opting to walk to the printer farthest away from your work area or choosing to use the restroom that’s located a couple of flights of stairs away—you can achieve a meaningful amount of extra energy expenditure while at work that could aid in weight control. It is important that we understand standing at work isn’t going to burn as many calories as going for a brisk walk or a long run. However, our findings add to a growing field of research that shows the benefits of sit-stand desks, including increases in productivity and energy, and lower pain, blood sugar, and potentially blood pressure.”

The message these researchers are putting out seems like they are trying to talk out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, they are saying the sit-stand desks are an easy way to burn calories, yet their research shows on average, only about 52 calories are burned on average each day using the desk. Then they throw in that combining the sit-stand desk with some lifestyle changes gives better results—you don’t say?

It almost seems like the research done by the University of Pittsburgh might have been funded by a company that sells the sit-stand desks based on how back and forth they are with their wording. Again, if you change certain aspects of your typical day in the office, you can get much better results than paying for an over-priced computer lift.

Should You Buy a Sit-Stand Desk?

If you are concerned about burning calories, that’s going to come from exercise itself and taking a good hard look at your nutrition. Do you find yourself snacking on junk throughout the day? That’s not an issue any desk is going to fix. A sit-stand desk is not going to take you from 25% body fat down to the low teens—not going to happen. Don’t let the marketing behind products fool you. If something sounds too good to be true, it generally is.

Make a lifestyle change and keep your hard-earned money in your pocket. Through little changes in your lifestyle and daily routine, you’ll not only be more productive and energized throughout the day, but you’ll also see the needle on your scale slowly moving to the left.

B. Barone Gibbs, R. J. Kowalsky, S. J. Perdomo, M. Grier and J. M. Jakicic. Energy expenditure of deskwork when sitting, standing, or alternating positions. Occupational Medicine, August 2016 DOI: 10.1093/occmed/kqw115

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