Using standing desks may be a popular healthy intervention in the office but an updated review of studies show that its health benefits are largely uncertain. The same goes for other methods that aim to decrease sitting time at work.

More and more people are faced with physical activity, particularly prolonged sitting at work. Such practice is linked with increased risk of heart disease, obesity and even death.

Different interventions have surfaced to counter this problem. However, the effectiveness of these methods in reducing employees' sitting time remains uncertain.

To find out, an international team of researchers looked into studies that tackled this topic from different databases up to June 2, 2015.

The team found a total of 20 studies with 2,174 subjects from high-income countries. Out of these studies, nine looked into physical changes in the office, two evaluated modifications in workplace policy, seven studied information and counselling programs and one looked into both physical office alteration and information and counselling.

Standing Desks: Are They Effective?

The authors particularly looked at the effects of standing desks. They found that people who used these desks reduced their daily sitting time to about 30 minutes to two hours. If this is combined with counselling and information, the same rate of sitting reduction was also noted. Even outside work, standing desks were able to reduce sitting time by 30 minutes or longer.

Despite this, the authors say the evidence favoring the benefits of standing desks are considered very low in quality in three non-randomized literature pieces and low quality in three randomized researches.

"This Cochrane Review shows that, at the moment, there is uncertainty over how big an impact sit-stand desks can make on reducing the time spent sitting at work in the short term," says study lead author Nipun Shrestha from Health Research and Social Development Forum in Nepal.

Other Factors

Other interventions aimed at reducing sitting time produced varied results.

Another intervention that showed positive effects is using treadmill desk plus undergoing counselling.

All the rest — pedal workstations, walking during breaks and computer prompting software — did not reduce or change the workers' sitting time.

Better Thinking

Co-author Jos Verbeek says it is very vital for employees to have the interest in improving their health both inside and outside of the office. Unfortunately, there is not much ways to determine if standing up more may compensate the bad effects of sedentary lifestyle.

In the end, Verbeek says standing rather than sitting during work hours does not result in very significant energy expenditure so people should not expect massive weight loss through this intervention. People should be aware of this so they can make more informed choices.

The study was published in the Cochrane Library on March 17.

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