Sit-stand desks may improve job performance, psychological health

Oct. 11 (UPI) — Desks that allow workers to sit as well as stand while using a computer apparently improve job performance and psychological health, according to a trial.

Researchers in Britain and Australia found the desks reduced sitting in the office by more than one hour a day. The findings were published Thursday in The BMJ.

High levels of sedentary behavior have been associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

The study was part of Britain’s Stand More AT Work, or SMArT Work, a comprehensive behavior-change intervention developed to encourage more frequent standing and less sitting at work. A website includes the health risks of prolonged sitting, as well as information on how best to use a height-adjustable desk.

“Office workers are one of the most sedentary populations, spending 70-85 percent of time at work sitting,” the researchers wrote.

But previous studies were deemed low quality, according to the researchers.

Over 12 months, 146 office workers based at the University Hospitals — Leicester Royal Infirmary, Leicester General Hospital and Glenfield Hospital — were recruited for the study, 77 using sit-stand desks and 69 not utilizing them between 2015 and June 2016, with followup through 2017. The average age of the participants was 41, with 80 percent women and 78 percent white European ethnicity.

Besides measuring data while in the office, daily physical activity levels and answers to questions about work, mood and quality of life were recorded.

When the study started, the overall sitting time was 9.7 hours per day.

Compared with the control group, the sitting time was lower by 50.62 minutes per day at 3 months, 64.40 minutes per day at 6 months and 82.39 minutes per day at 12 months compared with the control group. Stepping time and physical activity remained unchanged.

The researchers said there were improvements in job performance, work engagement, occupational fatigue, working while sick, daily anxiety and quality of life — but not significant differences in job satisfaction, cognitive function and sickness absenteeism.

The authors want future research on longer-term health benefits of displacing sitting with standing and how best to promote movement.

Dr. Cindy Gray at the University of Glasgow in an accompanying editorial wrote she sees potential health gains of replacing sitting with standing, but she wonders about potential health gains.

“Many interventions that simply replace sitting with standing have shown clinically negligible effects on cardiovascular risk biomarkers, whereas breaking up sitting with periods of even light physical activity appears to confer metabolic benefits,” she wrote.

“Available evidence suggests that the individual and public health benefits conferred by interventions that focus mainly on sedentary behavior — such as SMArT Work — may be limited by their failure to increase walking or other forms of physical activity.”

In addition, she questioned the transferability beyond the National Health Service and its suitability for other types of employees, including shift workers.

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