ROCHESTER, Minn. — Standing desks have many fine qualities.
Getting out of your chair while you work causes your pelvis to regain its naturally tilted configuration, your spine to return to its naturally neutral curvature, and your eyes to better see the departure of your boss from across the room.
But it won't do anything special to your lipid panel.
Nor will standing while you type help your blood pressure, or your waistline.
It turns out that you're going to have to fix those in the kitchen, and out on the walking path.
That's the finding of a systematic new meta-analysis published last month in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings: Innovations, Quality & Outcomes.
The authors computed the results of eight clinical trials probing the benefits of standing versus sitting, a database with 877 participants tracking the benefits of standing on a host of surrogate outcome variables connected to diabetes and cardiovascular illness, markers such as blood lipids, blood pressure, weight and waist circumference.
The results showed that standing for an hour and a 20 minutes a day had a minor positive relationship with A1C and body fat, but otherwise, nada.
"It seems like a lot of people assume that standing is much better than sitting," says Mayo Clinic cardiologist and lead author Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, "without necessarily taking into consideration whether you move more, or do other important things."
He spoke from his office, where he keeps a treadmill desk. The kind where you stand and walk at the same time.
"A lot of these trends redesigning the office with standing desks, it's usually about shifting to standing without having anything beneath your legs to exercise, or to do something when you are standing."
"I know many people have redesigned their offices with standing desks, but ... the results (we found) were very modest. What they prove is that, for cardiovascular health, standing alone doesn't necessarily add too much. You have to be doing something else."
Lopez-Jimenez says that standing desks likely appeal to people because you are more likely to move around when each action doesn't require getting up and out of a chair, especially while talking on the phone.
Studies dating back to the 1940s show that sitting is associated with more heart attacks, Lopez-Jimenez says, but they compared the health of bus drivers, who sat all day (and experienced stress), with porters whose job it was to walk around the bus and collect tickets.
"Somehow it was concluded that as long as you were not sitting, you were OK," he says. "To me that was a rather simplistic interpretation of science."
"The assumption was that the muscle activity (of standing) was good enough to give you some benefit for the heart, which seems to be not true."
Again, the science is persuasive that being seated flattens the lumbar curve and places a cumulative load on the spine over time, a collective burden that can create orthopedic injury. Getting out of the chair frequently, especially if you are able to move, releases these loads.
But it won't protect your heart. For that, you will need to use your standing desk to Google a cooking class, or a sporting goods store, or a gym.
"Our finding is that standing is not enough," says Lopez-Jimenez. "It is OK to do if it makes you feel better. If it makes the back feel better, or makes a person more alert, more likely to move around, go for it. But people should not assume that just standing is going to eliminate the damages of sitting."