By Ankur Banerjee
(Reuters Health) – Sit-stand desks reduce daily sitting time and may improve job performance and work engagement, a British study suggests.
Researchers who studied 146 National Health Services employees found that after a year of using sit-stand desks, in combination with a coaching program, workers’ sitting time was cut by more than an hour a day. Furthermore, sit-stand desk users had improvements in job performance, job engagement and recovery from occupational fatigue.
“Simply replacing some sitting time each day with standing may be beneficial in lots of different ways for health and may be cost saving for the employer,” Dr. Charlotte Edwardson, the study’s lead author, told Reuters Health in an email.
Sitting all day at a “desk job” has been linked with health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and earlier death, the authors wrote in the BMJ.
For the study, they randomly assigned 77 people to participate in the so-called SMArT Work intervention, in which workers receive a height adjustable workstation, along with instructions for using it, a goal-setting booklet, a self-monitoring and prompt tool, and coaching sessions. The remaining 69 volunteers continued to work at traditional nonadjustable workstations.
Sitting time was measured using a device worn on the thigh at the start of the study and again after three months, six months and 12 months. Participants also answered questionnaires about job performance, work engagement, state of mood and quality of life.
At the start of the study, participants in both groups were sitting for nearly 10 hours per day, on average. Compared to participants who kept their usual workstations, those given sit-stand desks were sitting for 34 fewer minutes per day after three months, 59 fewer minutes per day after six months and 82 fewer minutes per day after a year.
The intervention group also showed improvements in job performance, work engagement, occupational fatigue, daily anxiety, and quality of life, the authors report. They also had fewer musculoskeletal complaints.
No differences were seen for sick days, however.
The pattern of improvement over time suggests that this approach may produce the sustained reductions in sitting beyond 12 months that are essential for public health gain, Dr Cindy Gray at the University of Glasgow wrote in an accompanying editorial.
However, Gray noted, at 12 months the participants were still sitting for more than six to eight hours per day, on average, which is still an unhealthy level.
A limitation of the study, the authors acknowledge, is that it was conducted in a single organization.
Also, the sit-stand desk users’ levels of physical activity remained unchanged. While they were sitting less, they were simply standing more, which yields fewer health benefits compared to breaking up sitting with periods of light physical activity.
Still, the authors write, this type of intervention – combining an environmental change with additional strategies such as education, self-monitoring, and brief coaching – deserves further research.
“We are not saying don’t sit down, we all have to sit down,” Edwardson told Reuters Health. “But it’s getting the balance right between the amount of time we spent sitting and the amount of time we spend on our feet.”