Research according to WHO has shown – and this has been known for a while – that sedentary lifestyles contribute to mortality in a significant way. Since the majority of us in the West spend most of our days sitting down in an office, it’s becoming more and more urgent to figure out ways to combat this problem.
One solution that seems to have good evidential support is to use your office furniture in a smart way to prevent employees from sitting down all the time. The best-known piece of furniture that can be used this way is the standing desk, but the health benefits of sit-stand desks (also known as adjustable height workstations) and treadmill desks also have a good evidence base.
“Research has shown that sedentary
lifestyles contribute to mortality
in a significant way.”
Many studies have been carried out on the impact of sit-stand and treadmill desks. For example, a Stanford University back pain study found that 78% of workers who used sit-stand desks compared with those who used regular workstations were more likely to report a pain-free day. Similarly, a 2011 study showed that prolonged sitting was reduced and mood states were improved in workers equipped with sit-stand workstations, and a 2015 study in the classroom found reduced sitting in a diverse sample of children who used the equipment.
Some studies have shown that standing desks can not only reduce back and neck pain, but can also boost productivity by up to 46% – though this may be a rather high estimate. What’s more, the increase in productivity may accelerate as workers get more used to using standing desks. Much more research needs to be performed to determine the exact cause of the productivity increase; and in the meantime, other interventions, such as microbreaks for workers (in which you move around for one minute every 20 minutes), have also been shown to increase productivity – by about 15%, in the case of microbreaks.
Productivity, Physiology and Mood
So, we know that sit-stand desks, as well as other interventions, can not only improve physical health but also psychological health. Both standing desks and their more active cousin, treadmill desks, tend to reduce sedentariness and improve mood and productivity. Treadmill desks have the best overall outcomes but – perhaps understandably – they take a little longer to get used to! A trio of Canadian-based researchers investigated several studies and consolidated the results in terms of both physiological and psychological factors.
In terms of physiology, both types of desk showed improvements from baseline measures (i.e., compared with when employees are sitting all day). Heart rate increased between 8 and 12 beats per minute for standing and treadmill desks respectively, and both types of desk increased levels of HDL cholesterol in the blood (aka “good” cholesterol), as well as reduced levels of glucose. Also, both types of desk promoted weight loss with treadmill desks causing a loss of between 3 and 7 pounds on average over a year-long intervention.
While standing and treadmill desks did not appear to show any clear benefits to specific work tasks such as typing, standing desks did provide a significant mood boost to participants – which has been shown to correlate with increased overall productivity. Participants reported less tension, fatigue, depression and confusion, and more focus, energy, happiness and vigour. In terms of treadmill desks, there was a significant decrease in stress over the short two-week study.
There is as yet no research on improvements in cognitive function for standing desks, but treadmill desks at the very least show no reduction in cognitive function, and may even show some improvements in memory and attention. Taken together, using this kind of furniture appears to give an overall positive boost to mood and psychological state.
“There are significant health and
productivity benefits associated with
using standing desks, adjustable height
workstations, and treadmill desks
in the workplace.”
There is a lot of solid research to support the health and productivity benefits of standing desks, adjustable height workstations, and treadmill desks. Specifically, there are significant physiological benefits, such as increased heart rate and reduced blood glucose, as well as psychological benefits, like improved mood and a decrease in stress.
Savvy office managers who are interested in improving the health of their employees, as well as their productivity, would do well to consider these benefits when planning how best to refit their office space for forthcoming refits.
How healthy is your office environment?
Do you have standing desks, adjustable height workstations or treadmill desks in your workplace?
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