Posted: 28 Sep. 2015 15 min. read

Stationary high desks in the workplace

The effect of a 6-week intervention on physical activity

Modern office spaces are characterised by desks, chairs and computer screens. Whether it is secretarial, call centre, professional services or even design work (graphic, architectural), the majority of office workers sit for extended periods of time to complete their daily work requirements.

Increasingly, a sedentary lifestyle is coming under scrutiny. Whilst it is well accepted that a physically active lifestyle is important and contributes to better health and well-being, the office workplace (where office employees spend the majority of their waking hours) has not been on par with this philosophy. In fact, there is evidence to suggest being sedentary is contributing to lifestyle-related illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and back and muscular pain. Encouraging workers to stand for some, or all, periods at work is one way office-based organisations are aiming to negate this growing trend and it is beginning to catch on.

In this review, we describe a study looking at how academics across Japan’s health, wellbeing and nutrition, government and academic research sector, collaborated to complete a scientific study examining the effects of installing standing desks on workers who traditionally undertake sedentary work.

Conducted by researchers, Dr Motohiko Miyachi, Professor Satoshi Kurita, Dr Julien Tripette, Ryo Takahara and Yoshiki Yagi from the Department of Health Promotion and Exercise, and the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan, and renowned author Haruki Murakami over a 13 week period. The study comprised 32 white collar workers employed at the headquarters of a retail company in Tokyo, Japan. In essence, the study found that standing for a period of time at work does increase physical activity, reducing the chances of the aforementioned lifestyle diseases.

Method
 

The researchers split the 32 participants (10 women, 22 men) into two groups and completed the study over two phases – each of six weeks duration. Group A completed six weeks standing work (SW) whilst Group B simultaneously completed their regular sitting work over the same week period (this is the control). At the conclusion of the six weeks, both groups swapped, with Group A becoming the control group and completing sitting work and Group B completing SW. Individuals were asked to complete at least 10 hours a week SW to be effective. Throughout the two phases of the study, all individuals in each group were measured, via a triaxial accelerometer (device measuring physical activity) strapped to their waist to monitor the effects of standing versus sitting. At the beginning, middle and end of each six week period, the measurements were taken to see if there was an increase in the amount of physical activity and any other anthropometric (human body measurements) changes.

The work performed by the subjects in the study ranged from: sales, marketing, general affairs and accounting. Further, workers had not used standing desks prior to participating in the study

Results

In this study, physical activity increased significantly when participants completed SW for at least 10 hours a week. This is in contrast to participants undertaking the sitting work phase (control), where there was no change. Waist circumference decreased significantly after the SW period but not in the control period. This suggests the installation of a standing desk may indeed be an effective strategy to increase physical activity, and in turn, reduce sedentary behaviour.

This result is echoed in a key article by Professor MacEwan et al from the University of Guelph (A systematic review of standing and treadmill desks in the workplace, Journal of Preventative Medicine (2015)).Burr et al completed a database search of all academic studies related to standing desks and their outcomes. Their review noted that not only weres there physical changes in participants in a number of studies conducted where standing desks were installed, but worker sense of wellbeing and productivity also increased. Feeling more energised, less stressed, and increasingly motivated, increased productivity and mental clarity were some of the impacts noted in a number of studies assessed by Burr et al.

Implications
 

Standing desks are useful in reducing workplace sedentariness and increasing physical activity. This, in turn, has a positive influence over a worker’s mood, wellbeing and workplace stress, and suggests that if physical activity is increased by the use of standing desks, lifestyle-related illnesses identified as being contracted due to long periods of sitting at work, may in fact be reduced. Further, worker wellbeing, mental clarity and energy levels could be increased.

Even though academic research on the definitive impacts of standing work is still in its infancy, this Japanese case study and MacEwan et al’s review offer promising insights. Certainly, these results support the move by more progressive companies to offer standing desks or adjustable desks, as well as seated desks. A simple way to promote physical activity in sedentary workplaces.

or read Miyachi, Motohiko, et al. “Installation of a stationary high desk in the workplace: effect of a 6-week intervention on physical activity.” BMC public health 15.1 (2015): 368 and MacEwen, Brittany T., Dany J. MacDonald, and Jamie F. Burr. “A systematic review of standing and treadmill desks in the workplace.” Preventive medicine 70 (2015): 50-58.

This blog was originally authored by Kate Barrington.

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