- Flickr/Highways Agency
Reports about the health hazards of sitting for too long have driven many to purchase standing desks, or to create their own versions.
Even the White House recently requested up to $700,000 worth of standing desks.
Yet a growing body of research complicates the idea that sitting for extended periods of time – even if you exercise regularly – is linked to a higher mortality risk.
The most recent evidence that sitting instead of standing won’t necessarily lead to an early death is a study led by Richard Pulsford, Ph.D. at the University of Exeter, which is published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
Pulsford and his co-authors followed upwards of 5,000 participants for 16 years starting in 1985. At the study’s outset, all participants were London-based civil servants ranging in age from 35 to 55.
They indicated how many total hours they spent sitting per week, as well as how many hours they spent sitting at work, sitting while commuting, sitting at home while watching TV, and sitting at home while doing something other than watching TV. Participants also reported time spent walking and doing other forms of physical activity.
After the researchers controlled for factors including gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, there was no indication that sitting time had an impact on mortality risk.
The study authors admit that it’s possible the participants in their study were more active than the average person, because the London public transportation system requires a lot of walking. Similarly, they say it’s possible that sitting only increases mortality risk if you sit for an incredibly long periods of time, which most of their participants didn’t.
Yet these findings support other recent research on the perhaps overhyped link between sitting time and mortality risk. One study found that standing instead of sitting didn’t do much to protect people from dying early – but light exercise did. People who walked around for about two minutes every hour had about a 33% lower risk of dying prematurely than the people who sat the whole time.
Another study recommends that people spend two hours doing something other than sitting every day in order to prevent problems such as cardiometabolic diseases and premature mortality.
- Flickr / Emile B
“Our study overturns current thinking on the health risks of sitting and indicates that the problem lies in the absence of movement rather than the time spent sitting itself,” study co-author Melvyn Hillsdon, Ph.D., said in a release. “Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing.”
The bottom line here seems to be that simply standing up instead of sitting may not confer any health benefits. Sitting while you’re working, commuting, or relaxing at home is probably fine, as long as you take breaks to be physically active.
Perhaps instead of investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in standing desks, the White House should simply encourage members of the government to take an afternoon stroll around Capitol Hill.