If there’s one thing scientists know about the best type of desk for an office worker’s long-term health, it’s that they don’t really know anything, according to a new analysis of the scientific literature on the subject.
After carefully reviewing 20 of the best studies of workplace interventions to reduce sitting time, including standing, stair and treadmill desks, the researchers concluded that there simply isn’t enough data to say whether any of the alternatives are better than just plop down in front of a standard desk.
A number of past studies have shown that putting your butt in an office chair for hours on end can shorten your chances of heart failure, disability, and even shorten your life. Collectively, the data has led to a trend for alternative workstations aimed at reversing those negative effects, boosting calorie burn and improving overall health.
But the reviewers say it’s unclear whether such solutions make an impression. So far, the studies on the alternatives have shown that they can reduce sitting time from 30 minutes to two hours. But all studies are too small and/or poorly designed to provide a definitive answer as to whether this will have health consequences, the researchers report in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. The studies included only 2174 participants in total, rarely had randomized controls, and only followed health outcomes for up to six months.
“What we actually found is that most of it is just fashionable and not proven to be good for your health,” Jos Verbeek, a review co-author and a health researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, told NPR. .
“The idea that you should be standing for four hours a day? There’s no real evidence for that,” he added. “I would say there is evidence that standing can be bad for your health.” For example, a previous study found that prolonged standing increases the risk of needing medical attention for enlarged veins.
While the authors insist that more high-quality studies are needed to evaluate the health effects of different workstations, they concluded so far:
Sit-stand desks had no significant effect on work performance, musculoskeletal complaints or absenteeism. It remains unclear whether standing can repair the damage caused by sitting, as there is hardly any additional energy consumption.