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Study says standing desks improve worker performance by doing this

Office employees do the least exercise - spending three-quarters of their shifts and two-thirds of their waking day slumped in a chair.

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(Photo by M&W Studios via Pexels)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Standing desks improve workers' performance by cutting sitting time by an hour a day, according to new research.

Allowing them to graft on their feet boosts well-being and energy levels - while reducing stress.

Corresponding author Dr. Charlotte Edwardson, of the University of Leicester, said: "Office-based workers spend most of their working day sitting and also show high
levels of sitting time outside of work.

"High levels of sitting time are associated with several health-related outcomes
and premature mortality, with high levels of workplace sitting associated with
low vigor and job performance and high levels of presenteeism."

Presenteeism is the practice of being present at one's place of work for more hours than is required, especially as a manifestation of insecurity about one's job.

Sedentary lifestyles increase the risk of chronic conditions including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, depression anxiety and cancers.

Office employees do the least exercise - spending three-quarters of their shifts and two-thirds of their waking day slumped in a chair.

Dr. Edwardson said: "This study was a key research-to-translation step."

Previous studies looking at ways to reduce sitting in the workplace have been deemed low quality.

The UK-led team's SMART Work & Life (SWAL) intervention was designed to reduce sitting time and increase moving time at work, with and without a standing desk, delivered by workplace champions.

The trial involved 756 office workers from two councils in Leicester, three in Greater Manchester, and one in Liverpool.

Participants were randomly assigned to the SWAL group, the SWAL intervention with a standing desk, or a control group over a 12-month period.

The SWAL intervention group was given a range of resources to help them reduce their sitting time, and highlight the health risks of too much sitting.

Workplaces were also encouraged to make small changes around the office to enable more movement, such as relocating printers and waste paper bins and creating standing areas for meetings.

The SWAL plus desk group also received a height adjustable desk to encourage less sitting time. The control group carried on working as usual.

Workers’ sitting time was measured using an accelerometer worn on the thigh at the outset and again at 12 months.

Daily physical activity levels and self-reported feedback about work, physical and mental health were also recorded.

The standing desk was three times more effective at reducing sitting time than the SWAL intervention alone.

For example, at 12 months, daily sitting time for the SWAL group, and the SWAL plus standing desk were, respectively, 22 minutes and 64 per day minutes lower on average than the control group.

(TheStandingDesk.com via Unsplash)

Dr. Edwardson said: "The SWAL plus desk group sat for 42 minutes less daily than the SWAL group, showing it to be more effective.

"Time spent in prolonged sitting was lower in both intervention groups compared with the control group.

"Reductions in sitting time were largely replaced by increases in standing time, and these changes occurred on workdays and during work hours.

"Furthermore, the magnitude of behavior change was similar across the three and 12-month follow-up, indicating that behavior change was maintained during the course of the study.

"Finally, the SWAL plus desk intervention appeared more effective during work hours for those older than the average age."

The average age of participants was 45. More than seven in ten were women. The average body mass index (BMI) at the start of the study was 26.5.

The SWAL intervention group was given a range of resources to help them reduce their sitting time, and highlight the health risks of too much sitting.

Workplaces were also encouraged to make small changes around the office to enable more movement, such as relocating printers and waste paper bins and creating standing areas for meetings.

The SWAL plus desk group also received a height adjustable desk to encourage less sitting time. The control group carried on working as usual.

Workers’ sitting time was measured using a device (accelerometer) worn on the thigh at the start of the study and again at 12 months.

Daily physical activity levels and self-reported feedback about work, physical and mental health were also recorded.

The SWAL intervention plus the standing desk was three times more effective at reducing sitting time than the SWAL intervention alone.

For example, at 12 months, daily sitting time for the SWAL group, and the SWAL plus standing desk were, respectively, 22 minutes and 64 per day minutes lower on average than the control group.

(Photo by JP Lockwood via Unsplash)

Small, but non-clinically meaningful improvements in stress, wellbeing, and a sense of work-related vigor were found for both intervention groups compared with the control group at three and 12 months, as well as pain in the hips, knees and ankles in the desk group.

Although time spent sitting was lower in both intervention groups compared with the control group, the researchers note that most participants simply replaced sitting with standing.

They say further work is needed to encourage more physical activity, particularly outside of working hours.

As such, the researchers say both SWAL and SWAL plus desk were associated with a reduction in sitting time, although the addition of a height adjustable desk was found to be threefold more effective.

And they point to areas for future research, such as exploring how people can best be supported to make changes outside of work and increase time spent moving, across different employment sectors and for a longer time period.

Professor Cindy Gray, of the University of Glasgow, who was not involved in the study, said: "The findings are noteworthy because they come from a fully powered cluster randomized trial with objective measurement of sedentary behavior at three and 12 months."

However, she points out that the move to more home-based and blended patterns of working after the covid-19 pandemic is likely to increase workforce sedentary.

She added: “Understanding how to optimize occupational interventions to support people to sit less and move more around their home during both work and non-working hours is essential."

In Sweden, sit-stand working is commonplace - and in 2014, Denmark made it mandatory for employers to offer their staff sit-stand desks. The findings are in The BMJ.

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