Does a Standing Desk Actually Reduce Sitting Time?

09 December 2018

The health and wellness benefits of standing desks are well-documented. Using a height-adjustable sit-stand desk can relieve chronic back and neck pain, decrease risk for cardiovascular disease, combat weight gain, prevent diabetes, and even help reduce your risk of cancer.

But all those benefits amount to nothing unless you actually stand at your standing desk. If you've ever bought new exercise equipment only to use it no more than a couple times before it gathers dust in your guest room, you know that simply owning wellness equipment won't do you any good. To reap the benefits, you have to use the equipment on a regular basis.

Which leads us to the question: Do standing desks actually reduce sitting time? That is, do people with standing desks actually use them on a daily basis and spend less time sitting as a result?

Do People Actually Use Their Standing Desk?

Standing desks are one of the fastest growing workplace benefits. According to data published by the Society for Human Resources, the number of companies providing standing desks for employees has increased by 33% since 2014. The organization's annual survey further found that 53% of HR professionals say their company is expanding the use of standing desks.

But while more employees may have access to standing desks, it doesn't necessarily mean they're actually being used. Are employees standing more now that they have standing desks, or are they just leaving their height-adjustable desks in the seated position all day long?

We conducted a survey to find out. In October 2018, we sent a survey to a randomly selected sample of more than 3,000 previous FlexiSpot customers. We compiled their responses into the Standing Desk Status Quo Survey, our inaugural report on the "status quo" of standing desks in today's workplace culture.

One of the questions in the Standing Desk Status Quo Survey asked respondents whether owning a standing desk has reduced their sitting time. An overwhelming 96% said yes. Most standing desk users switch between sitting and standing every 1-2 hours, standing for 30 minutes to one hour at a time. Relief from back, neck, or hip pain is the leading standing desk benefit reported by respondents, with over 67% saying their standing desk had helped prevent or relieve pain.

The University of Sydney published a similar report, called The Stand@Work Study, in partnership with the Heart Foundation. The study followed desk-based office employees in the Heart Foundation's Sydney office as they spent four weeks trialing a sit-stand workstation. The intervention group, who used a sit-stand desk, were compared to a control group who spent the four weeks continuing to work at their usual seated desk.

The study found that participants spent almost 20% less time sitting by the end of the sit-stand workstation trial. The proportion of time spent sitting dropped from an average of 79% to 60%.

So, we can decisively say that standing desks do in fact reduce sitting time.

Tips for Transitioning to a Standing Desk

As we've said, standing desks have countless health benefits — but only if you actually stand. If you're having trouble remembering to use your standing desk every day, here are some tips to build up the habit until it sticks:

  • Use a sit-stand reminder system — Many height-adjustable desks come with a built-in sit-stand reminder system that alerts you when it's time to change positions. You can set the timer to intervals of your choosing, ensuring that you never get so absorbed in a project that you forget to stand up! If your desk doesn't have a sit-stand reminder system, seek out other technologies that can help you remember when to stand up.
  • Wear flat, comfortable shoes — Standing is not going to seem very attractive if you're wearing uncomfortable high heels or shoes that pinch and offer poor arch support. If you can't wear comfortable shoes all day, keep a pair under your desk that you can slip into when you're ready to stand.
  • Get an anti-fatigue mat — You may be avoiding standing because you're uncomfortable on your feet. An anti-fatigue mat can help reduce strain when standing for extended periods of time. It's a soft, supportive cushion designed to promote micro-movements that prevent your muscles from locking into place, which is the usual culprit behind muscle tension caused by standing.
  • Use good posture — The strange thing about posture is that it seems easier to sit or stand with poor posture, but it actually makes it more difficult to stay in one position for long periods. Standing with correct posture (shoulders back, neck level, knees just slightly bent) will make standing for extended periods more comfortable and easier on your body.

It may take some time to build up the habit of standing at your sit-stand desk every day, but the results from our Standing Desk Status Quo survey show that owning a standing desk will reduce your sitting time. Practice the tips above and you will soon find your rhythm with standing during the workday.