Are standing desks really overrated? A response to the new york times article on sit stand desks

fitterlab blog

Your brain depends on strong blood flow, good oxygenation, and optimal glucose metabolism to work properly.


An Australian study, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, set out to determine if prolonged sitting and lack of exercise have an effect on depression. Researchers analysed the habits of nearly 9000 women over several years’ time.


They found that women who sat for more than seven hours a day had a 47% higher risk of depression than women who at for four hours or less per day.

Excessive sitting resulted in an increase in depression symptoms among middle-aged women. Researchers concluded that reducing the amount of daily sitting time may relieve existing symptoms of depression.


Other researchers have come to similar conclusions about the mental effects of spending too much time sitting. British researchers reviewing data from a national wellness project found that spending leisure time on the computer and watching TV were associated with reduced feelings of well-being.


The work habits of more than 3000 government workers in Australia were studied, and those who spent more than 6 hours seated per workday were more likely to score higher in psychological distress than those sitting fewer than three hours, regardless of how active they were outside of work.


Space medicine has done quite a bit to help us understand why sitting is so detrimental.

Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division and author of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, cautioned about the hazards of chronic sitting. She explained that the human body deteriorates at a faster speed in anti-gravity situations. And sitting for an extended period of time actually simulates a low-gravity environment.


On the other hand, physical movements such as standing up or bending down, increases the force of gravity on your body. Anti-gravity environments speed up cellular deterioration, so the key is to disengage from this low-gravity environment.

Dr. Joan suggested a goal of standing up every 15 minutes whenever you are engaged in prolonged seated activities.


Another study was conducted on 3367 state government employees that assessed their anxiety and depression over the past month. The study, led by psychological scientist Michelle Kilpatrick of the University of Tasmania, found that employees who sat for long stretches at work also increased anxiety and depression compared to colleagues who didn’t spend as much time sitting.


The study also found that hitting the gym after work didn’t protect workers from the effects of sitting. If people sat for most of the day, even if they were physically active and getting exercise in off hours, they still showed relatively higher rates of anxiety and depression symptoms than workers who sat for less than 3 hours.

Kilpatrick commented that “individuals may be meeting recommended levels of health promoting physical activity, yet their physical and mental health may remain at risk if they are also sedentary for prolonged periods.”


A study by Pronk et al also (2012) reported significant improvements in mood for users using sit-stand desks as compared to users using traditional workstations. There were significant improvements for fatigue, vigor, tension, confusion, depression, and total mood disturbance.


After a period of usage, users of sit-stand desks reported feeling more comfortable (87%), more energized (87%), healthier (75%), more focused (71%), more productive (66%), less stressed (33%) and happier (62%).


This improvement in mood could also be linked in part to less lower back pain and shoulder tension, posture improvement, decreased waist and elbow pain, and increased comfort.

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