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To stand or not stand - that is the question

Don’t stand more; stand-up more often - a blog on the science of sit-to-stand desks

I often have clients ask me about stand-up or sit-to-stand desks. Are they beneficial? Do they help with work related neck and back pain? Will they make it easier to get through the work day?

This blog explores the benefits and purpose of sit-to-stand desks, with reference to some of the latest research.

You may have heard the saying ‘sitting is the new smoking’. As chronic health problems become more prevalent (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity); there is a focus on prevention rather than a cure. It was De. Cocker et al (2010) who found that an increase in sitting time has a correlation with increased weight gain. This has prompted a review on how much we move throughout the day. A recent study has found that on average adults spend more than half of their waking hours in a sedentary state, particularly prolonged sitting (Healy et al., 2007)). When we breakdown our working day in terms of time spent sitting it looks a little like this:

  • We sit in the car (or on transport) to and from work,

  • We sit at our desk,

  • We sit during lunch and,

  • Then we sit at home watching some television.

Although this is broken up with intermittent periods of standing and movement, percentage wise this is low. As a result of these and similar findings, companies started to look at ways they could improve their employees health, by promoting more movement in the workplace.

The answer is the sit-to-stand desk.

The purpose of the sit-to-stand desk is not to have an employee standing for longer periods of time, but rather to stand up more often. This breaks the sedentary cycle of sitting and starts to counteract the detrimental effects of sitting for prolonged periods (obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease) (Owen et al., 2009). Standing for an extended period of time, similar to any sustained posture, can cause pain and be uncomfortable. The aim of the sit-to-stand desk is to promote movement, making it easier for an employee to change their body position regularly throughout the day.

Standing regularly throughout the day can help counteract the effects of prolonged sitting

Sitting is ok - but like everything only in moderation

But standing up all the time will disrupt my work day/flow?

A study conducted by Chau et al (2015) found that standing desks increase the amount of time spent standing at work without a reduction in productivity. This shows is that by standing and moving more often, we are still as productive at work as when we are sitting. PLUS we get the added benefit of moving and counteracting the effects of prolonged sitting. It’s a win-win scenario.

As a physiotherapist, I promote movement and regularly changing positions and postures to avoid pain. People often finish with the all important question “what about the cost”. My reply, you can not put a cost on your health, and from a business perspective, a happy worker who is moving frequently will experience less discomfort and reduce the risk of health problems further down the track (Owen et al., 2009).

What I have found talking to clients and colleagues whilst writing this blog is that standing up at work is more a cultural change than a physical one. It is ingrained in us to sit at our desks and do our work, then go home and sit some more. If we want to be proactive and influence change sit-to-stand desks are one part of a whole.


Healy GN, Dunstan DW, Salmon J et al. Objectively measured light-intensity physical activity independently associated with 2-h plasma glucose. Diabetes Care 2007; 30:1384-9

Katrien A. De Cocker, Jannique G.Z. van Uffelen, Wendy J. Brown,

Associations between sitting time and weight in young adult Australian women,

Preventive Medicine, Volume 51, Issue 5, 2010, Pages 361-367, ISSN 0091-7435, Keywords: Cohort study; Weight change; Sedentary behaviour; BMI

Owen N, Bauman A, Brown W. Too much sitting: a novel and important predictor of chronic disease risk?; British Journal of Sports Medicine 2009;43:81-83

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