Stand Up to Confusion: Fake News About Standing Desks

By Marilynn Preston

March 6, 2018 5 min read

Sit happens, which is why I've become wildly enthusiastic about the health benefits of standing desks. (FYI: No company is paying me to say this. Darn.)

The science is in: Sitting too much, crushing your kishkes, stagnating your blood, blocking the flow of energy for six, eight, 10 hours a day, is an insult to your well-being.

It's been linked to much bigger risks of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and so much more. I'm definitely on my soapbox when it comes to recommending standing desks to my family and friends, strangers at farmers markets and, of course, the seated men and women who come to hear me talk about my new book, which has a whole chapter dedicated to the wonders of standing more and sitting less.

"Sitting really is the new smoking!" I tell everyone, quoting pioneering researcher Dr. James Levine, author of "Get Up! Why Your Chair Is Killing You and What You Can Do About It." "There are now over 10,000 studies showing that too much sitting is a seriously destructive thing to do to your health and well-being," I often say.

So you can imagine my surprise when a very smart doctor I know recently emailed to call my attention to a new story, widely reported and repeated in media outlets everywhere.

"Standing desks may be harmful for your health," read the headline for reporter Melanie Dadourian's story on Fox News.

"Standing desks could be harmful to your productivity... and your health," Gene Marks reported in The Washington Post.

Standing desks bad for your health? How can this be? Maybe if one fell on your head...

So I read through the new research, and as your most personal trainer, here's what I want to tell you: Phooey! The study that everyone's quoting was conducted by Curtin University in Australia and published in the journal Ergonomics. It involved 20 people. Twenty people! There were twice as many people in my yoga class this morning.

And what were these 20 people in the study told to do? They had to stand at their desks for two hours at a time. Two hours! No wonder the researchers were able to report that standing at a desk for a prolonged period of time will create "discomfort and deteriorating mental reactiveness."

Sure it will. Two hours of standing is a lot of standing. It could take days, weeks or months to build up to 120 minutes, so I'm not surprised many of the participants experienced swelling in their legs and pain in their hips and knees.

Sensation is the language of the body, and when you're standing at your desk and begin to feel any pain or discomfort or just the urge to sit down: Sit down!

It's a ridiculous study. So, dear reader, if you saw that headline, I hope you rise to the occasion and ignore it.

But here's one thing I can't ignore. The same medical doctor who sent me the stories about the new findings decided to do a little research of his own. He wasn't convinced that Levine had enough science to back up his oft-repeated claim that sitting is the new smoking. So he wrote to him, as one man of science to another, and requested the proof.

Dr. Don Simborg looked through about 100 references of Levine's for evidence that he actually directly compared the effects of sitting with the effects of smoking. He hadn't. In his email response, Levine referred to the work of another very reputable researcher, Dr. Steve Blair. Simborg told me he reviewed dozens of Blair's publications and found nothing to substantiate Levine's claim that "sitting is the new smoking."

The phrase is catchy, but is it true? Hmm... (Thank you, Dr. Simborg.)

So I won't be repeating the "Sitting is the new smoking" claim in my talks anymore, but I'll continue to strongly suggest people work at standing desks.

And when you do, don't stand still the whole time. Move around, with awareness: Bend and unbend your knees; press the balls of your big toes into the floor and spread your feet; rotate your hips.

And when your body begins to ache or feel tired, please take a seat.

Even if the researchers from Curtin University tell you not to.

ENERGY EXPRESS-O! HIS MAIN POINT STILL STANDS

"We are sitting ourselves to death." — Dr. James Levine

Marilynn Preston is the author of Energy Express, America's longest-running healthy lifestyle column. Her new book "All Is Well: The Art {and Science} of Personal Well-Being" is available now on Amazon and elsewhere. Visit Creators Publishing at creators.com/books/all-is-well to learn more. For more on personal well-being, visit www.MarilynnPreston.com.

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