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Standing Desks Could do More Harm than Good

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Several studies had warned office workers of spending too much time sitting. Because of the warning, ergonomic designers came up with the standing desk as an alternative choice for employees.

However, a new study found that there is little evidence to support the use of adjustable desks. According to the research, published in Ergonomics journal, the prolonged use of standing desks is linked with lower limb discomfort and deteriorating mental reactiveness.

Dangers of standing desks

The Telegraph reported that Curtin University researchers observed 20 participants who worked at standing desks for two hours. The researchers found discomfort significantly increased for the lower back and lower limb regions which correlated with past studies that suggested the standing desk is the cause of veins swelling that can endanger the heart.

After using the standing desk for about one hour and 15 minutes, mental reactiveness slowed down. But creative decision-making marginally improved. The observation indicated that evidence is catching up with the standing desk which showed some drawbacks.

Apparently, the push for standing desks has been driven more by commercial reasons than scientific evidence, Alan Taylor, a physiotherapy expert at Nottingham University, said. The cost of standing desks or systems to elevate computers is from £200 ($280) upward.

According to the Popular Science, some sellers are offering the standing desk at a discounted price of $105 for the FlexiSpot brand. The desk can hold up to 35 pounds and is made of fiberboard and steel. It fits a laptop, an extra monitor, and a mug. The desk’s regular price is $245.

He said that while future evidence may show some benefits of standing desks, office workers should also not ignore the advice of health experts of other ways to deal with their situation of needing to sit for long period of time at work. It includes going for regular walks at work because it would mean they are standing and not sitting. He suggested for employees to get up, go, and make a cup of coffee or tea, not just to stand there,

Not healthy as advertised

Taylor was backed by an ergonomics expert from the University of Alberta. Linda Miller, an adjunct professor with the University’s Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, who said that standing upright instead of sitting within the confines of a cubicle may be tiring, but it is not an exercise.

She said that it is not giving what workers need to keep the heart healthy and the body generally healthy. Miller pointed out that slouching, which usually happens when sitting, also happens when standing. A raised workspace will not solve the health problems caused by a sedentary lifestyle. She noted that people will use a standing desk, but they will still have very poor posture, CBC reported.

Miller said that sitting in a well-designed chair is better for the body than standing for too long at a raised desk. People think they are achieving good posture just by standing, but the location of the arms and the upper part of the back and neck must be checked too. Users of standing desks will often lock their knees or their hips to stabilize themselves which creates even more stress on the joints.

She said that the problem is not really so much on the sitting disease – because officer workers usually spend up to 80 percent of their working hours in prolonged sitting periods – but physical inactivity. She suggested that people who prefer to use a standing desk should still switch back and forth between standing and sitting positions several times throughout their workday.

However, Miller acknowledged that either position is still a prolonged posture. There is no real movement that is taking place because the worker just changes position. The result is fatigue that develops in the legs or the lower back as the worker tries to alleviate discomfort.

One way to make the workspace more ergonomic, she said, is to ensure that the mouse and the keyboard are at elbow height, while their monitors are adjusted to eye level. She added that office workers should take a short walk every hour.

Debate continues

Healthline noted that the debate between sitting and standing continues. Different studies present conflicting findings. It cited a recent research published in the European Journal of Cardiology that found standing for six hours instead of sitting does not only prevent weight gain but also helps people lose pounds.

The researchers analyzed over 46 studies with 1,184 participants whose average age was 33 years old. Their average weight was 143 pounds and 60 percent of them were men. By standing for six hours a day rather than sitting, a 143-pound person will burn an extra 54 calories daily. It is equivalent to burning 0.15 calories or more per minute compared to sitting.

It seems both positions have negative effects, Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, the chief of preventive cardiology at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, said that while it is important to avoid sitting for hours at a time, it is not safe for people with joint or vascular issues to also stand for long periods of time.

[메디컬리포트=​Vittorio Hernandez 기자]

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