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How consumers can make the most of sit-stand desks

Consumers should study up if they want to see the most health-related benefits

Photo (c) Aleutie - Getty Images
Consumers who spend their days in an office also spend most of their days sitting. But with many workplaces implementing sit-stand desks (SSDs), consumers may be able to reverse that trend.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh are currently exploring how consumers can make the most of their sit-stand desks, as much recent research has presented conflicting evidence.

“There has been a great deal of scientific research about sit-stand desks in the past few years, but we have only scratched the surface of this topic,” said Dr. April Chambers. “With my background in occupational injury prevention, I wanted to gather what we know so far and figure out the next steps for how we can use these desks to better benefit people in the workplace.”

Staying standing

Dr. Chambers and her team evaluated over 50 recent studies that examined the ins and outs of sit-stand desks to see how they affected consumers on several different levels: posture, work performance, behavior, discomfort, psychological, and physiological.

According to fellow researcher Dr. Nancy A. Baker, the studies proved that the “strongest changes” were seen in behavior and discomfort, while “the study found only minimal impacts” on any of the other potential factors.

Based on the studies, many sit-stand desk users were disappointed that the device didn’t help them shed excess weight.

According to the researchers, SSDs were initially touted as a tool to aid in fighting obesity, as it would get workers out of their chairs more. While they were effective to that end, and in giving consumers the freedom to move around and be more comfortable during their workdays, losing weight was not a factor here.

Though not effective in tackling obesity, the researchers did note that sit-stand desks were helpful to consumers’ health in that they aided in easing lower back pain and even incrementally lowered blood pressure.

“Though these are mild benefits, certain populations might benefit greatly from even a small change in their health,” said Dr. Chambers.

The researchers want to encourage workplaces to provide their employees with proper training and direction to not only properly use their sit-stand desks, but ensure that doing so will leave them with as many benefits as possible.

“Many workers receive sit-stand desks and start using them without direction,” Dr. Chambers said. “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.”

The researchers note that there are many factors at play, including how much time is spent standing, how tall consumers’ computers are, how tall their desks are, and if consumers were properly trained in how to operate their SSDs. Ticking off each of those factors would allow consumers to maximize the benefits.

Conflicting advice

While Dr. Chambers and her team are adamant that employees can benefit from their SSDs with the proper training, much of the previous research done on the topic has been conflicting.

While some researchers have found negative consequences associated with prolonged sitting, others have found risks associated with prolonged standing. However, one study suggests that working standing up could be the best thing for consumers’ production. That study focused entirely on work outcomes and found that completing assignments while standing led to much stronger cognitive abilities.

“Test results indicated that continued use of standing desks was associated with significant improvements in executive function and working memory capabilities,” said Ranjana Mehta, PhD. “Changes in corresponding brain activation patterns were also observed.”

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