Know What to Expect From Your Sit-Stand Desk

There's something semi-dystopian enough about a sit-stand desk that Radiohead has kind of written a song about it. The idea is that occupational sitting is as bad for us as smoking. It's an idea worth exploring, since so far, we really don't know that much.

That's the conclusion of a meta-study just released by the University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering. If you haven't heard of or seen a sit-stand desk, it does what it says on the label: Whether by a manual crank or a motor, it can accommodate a sitting or a standing user. When reports are warning us all about dead butt syndrome, workplace hazard lawsuits, and power poses for the computer-tethered, it seems worth covering your bases without sacrificing comfort.

Yet the Pitt engineers ultimately found "minimal impacts" on users' behavior, physiological and psychological well-being, work performance, discomfort, and posture. The changes were generally beneficial, if small, and included outcomes like slightly decreased blood pressure and mild relief from lower back pain. But no one should think of sit-stand desks as some kind of cure-all; they won't, for example, help anyone lose weight.

That said, the team did identify one area that could change for the better. "Many workers receive sit-stand desks and start using them without direction," said lead author April Chambers in a press release. "I think proper usage will differ from person to person, and as we gather more research, we will be better able to suggest dosage for a variety of workers." In other words, the sit-stand desk is a tool, not a miracle. Management and users should get used to treating them as such.