Yes, sit-stand desks may help people sit less at work

(Reuters Health) - Workers who use sit-stand desks may reduce the amount of time they spend in a chair by more than an hour a day, according to a review of research on the best ways to curb sedentary time at the office.

Sit-stand workstations with adjustable height settings seemed to reduce sitting time by an average of 84 to 116 minutes a day, compared with traditional desks designed to be used only with chairs, researchers found.

“These days, most of the people are employed in a profession that demands a sedentary lifestyle,” said lead study author Nipun Shrestha of the Institute for Health and Sport at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia.

“Such people slowly develop back problems, obesity, cardiovascular diseases and diabetes,” Shrestha said by email.

The study focused on sedentary time among workers from high-income countries, where desk jobs, inactive commutes, and poor eating and exercise habits are all contributing to a surge in chronic health problems like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure as well as an increased risk of premature death.

Ideally, desk workers should spend at least two hours during their typical office day standing and walking and accumulate four hours daily when possible, Shrestha advised.

The current analysis included 34 studies with a total of almost 3,400 workers. Many of the studies evaluated physical changes in work environments designed to get people out of their chairs, while some looked at counseling and information sessions aimed at making employees more active or a combination of these approaches.

Counseling combined with providing sit-stand desks didn’t appear more effective than the altered workstations alone.

Standing desks appeared to work as well as sit-stand desks at reducing sitting time, but there wasn’t enough data to draw firm conclusions, the authors note.

Treadmill desks combined with counseling did seem to reduce sitting time at work, but there wasn’t enough evidence to determine how well this option stacked up against other types of active workstations like cycling desks.

Punctuating the work day with a few minutes of walking every half hour appeared to curb daily sitting time by 15 to 66 minutes more than taking longer breaks less often, the study also found.

Reminders to get moving might also work. Prompts to stand reduced sitting time more than prompts to walk by an average of 10 to 19 minutes a day.

Most of the evidence is low-quality, however, because most of the experiments testing various options were too brief and too small, the researchers note in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

“For those individuals who are looking to reduce their sitting time at work, the best scientific evidence we have at the moment suggests that sit-to-stand desks may be effective and could reduce your sitting time at work by almost two hours a day,” said Keith Diaz, a behavior medicine researcher at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City who wasn’t involved in the study.

“It is worth noting that we still don’t know if standing is a healthier alternative to sitting,” Diaz said by email. “There is some research that suggests that standing may actually increase one’s health risk which is why, at the moment, workstations that promote movement are still the best recommendation for those individuals looking to improve their health.”

SOURCE: Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, online June 20, 2018.