Standing desks could increase life expectancy, study finds

The introduction of sit-stand desks is a cost-effective way for employers to improve the health of their workforce, an Australian study has found.

More than 230 desk-based workers took part in the Deakin University research to get them to stand, sit less and move more.

The paper, published on Monday, estimates if the recommended changes were rolled out to 20% of the nation’s office workers, it would cost $185.2m.

Yet it would save 7,492 “health-adjusted life years” in prevention of obesity-related diseases, states the article published in the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health. The research was funded by VicHealth and the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Lead researcher Dr Lan Gao from Deakin said spending excessive amounts of time sitting at a desk was associated with serious diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It could also be a factor in reduced life expectancy.

“Adopting this workplace intervention also has the potential to reduce absenteeism and improve productivity,” Gao said. “The introduction of sit-stand desks, alongside associated supports, is a cost-effective and innovative way to promote the health of Australia’s workforce.”

About 45% of Australian workers spend most of their day sitting at a desk.

The study found the net cost of providing workers with sit-stand desks was about at $344 per person, but Dr Gao said this could be reduced by economies of scale with bulk orders and sharing workstations.

“Ultimately this intervention has the potential to make a very significant and sustainable positive impact on reducing workplace sitting time, but most importantly it is also cost-effective, which we know is critical in making the case for a wider rollout of this program,” she said.

Official advice from the National Health and Medical Research council says sedentary behaviour is associated with poorer health outcome.

“There is currently not enough evidence to make a recommendation on the specific duration of sitting or lying down that is associated with poorer health outcomes. However, it is recommended to break up time spent sitting or lying down, as often as possible.”

It also warns that the emerging evidence suggests that the ill-effects of sedentary behaviour cannot be overcome by exercise.

Other studies have cast doubt on the health benefits of sit-stand work stations.

Researchers at Exeter University in the UK and University College London followed more than 5,000 people over a 16-year period and found sitting down was no worse for you than standing up as long as you had regular exercise.

“Any stationary posture where energy expenditure is low may be detrimental to health, be it sitting or standing,” said Melvyn Hillsdon from Exeter’s sport and health sciences department.

“The results cast doubt on the benefits of sit-stand work stations, which employers are increasingly providing to promote healthy working environments.”

The research found there was no influence on mortality risk for participants from sitting at work, during leisure time or watching television.