Skip to Main Content

Sitting is the new smoking, the headlines have blared. But a new analysis finds that most people with adjustable sit-stand desks spend most of their day sitting, anyway, and that other initiatives to get people moving at work don’t have much evidence to support them.

Why it matters:

Previous studies have shown that prolonged sitting increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes, even if you’re otherwise fit. Over the course of three years, people who sit through an eight- to 11-hour workday face a 15 percent increased risk of death compared to people who sit for fewer than 4 hours. Some experts thus recommend that people with sedentary desk jobs aim for four hours of standing and light activity during the workday.

The nitty gritty:

Nepalese researchers reviewed 20 studies of interventions to get people off their butts at work. Those included sit-stand desks, treadmill or cycling desks, counseling to sit less, and work policies that encouraged walking during the day.


The authors found that standing desks, on average, get people upright an additional thirty minutes to two hours each day, falling quite short of the four-hour recommendation. The other interventions inspired no change in sitting time, or yielded inconsistent results. And sit-stand desks have no real impact on work productivity, the analysis found. The results were published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews.

But keep in mind:

Just because there’s a lack of good evidence doesn’t mean that standing desks, or other interventions, don’t work. It does, however, indicate that the jury is still out on whether you should drop $500 on that fancy hydraulic desk lift. Science says that’s between you and your wallet.


You’ll want to know:

More important than standing desks is just getting moving. Focus, instead, on hitting at least 10,000 steps every day, said Dr. Keith Churchwell, vice president and executive director of Heart and Vascular Services at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

The bottom line:

Consumers may rush to buy trendy sit-stand desks to reduce sitting, but it’s unclear whether they are actually effective at doing that job, said lead investigator Dr. Nipun Shrestha. Until more robust and longer-term studies demonstrate that, researchers recommend more physical activity both at work and home.