The Potential Health Benefits of Standing at Work

With more and more research linking a sedentary lifestyle to mortality and chronic diseases, faculty and students at Jacksonville University are conducting a study aimed at showing the impacts of standing on student health. The Florida Times Union reports that Jacksonville University will use “standing desks,” to help reduce the eight to nine hours that a college student spends sitting during the day.

Jacksonville’s study begins on the heels of a recent NPR article stating that standing desks are more or less just a fad and not proven to have any significant health benefits.

According to occupational health researcher Dr. Jos Verbeek, they could even have negative effects like a high risk of hospitalization for enlarged veins. On the other hand, Lucas Carr, a behavioral medicine professor at the University of Iowa believes that those who stand in moderation on a daily basis will eventually see benefits, as more calories are burned while standing.

This new research, a part of Jacksonville’s Florida EPIC (Entrepreneurism, Policy, Innovation, and Commerce) Program, hopes to make students more productive and engaged in their education by reducing sitting time—ultimately resulting in students more fit to enter the workforce.

To measure their success, the Jacksonville researchers will assess the students’ physical and mental health at various points throughout the semester. Dr. Heather Hausenblas, the lead researcher and professor of Kinesiology at Jacksonville hopes to find that standing instead of sitting at the desks “reduces students’ level of stress; increases their focus, memory, and productivity; and affects their quality of life.”

College students are a segment of the population that spend a large portion of their free time sedentary and when coupled with long seated lectures, the hours can quickly add up. Dr. Hausenblas states that there has not been a study involving standing desks and college students, but studies with young children and middle-aged adults have shown promising results.

The study at Jacksonville is very similar to a recent study at a Texas call center where standing desks were also used. Researchers in the study found that not only were those employees who used standing desks more productive, but they became increasingly more productive over time.

In the first month, the standing employees had a call rate that was 23% more successful than those who were seated, and by the sixth month the rate climbed to 53%.

As limited research exists on the health benefits of standing, it will be interesting to see the results of Jacksonville’s study and consider their implications for the growing number of workplace wellness initiatives which incorporate or promote standing desks.

Study: Key Interventions to ‘Reduce Workplace Sitting’

Regular readers of this blog know that among the keys to a well-run workplace wellness program is incorporating movement — or the reduction of workplace sitting — into the program design.

For example, we cited a New York Times report, that indicated that employees who are always wandering — or pacing — around may be the ones to emulate, and insight that could provide important insights into a well-run workplace wellness program.

We also noted a study titled “Prolonged sitting negatively affects the postprandial plasma triglyceride-lowering effect of acute exercise.” It concludes that the test results “[underscore] the importance of limiting sitting time even in people who have exercised.”

But a challenge for workplace wellness programs also can be engagement — even a well-designed program has to get employees out of their seats.

The study is titled “Intervening to reduce workplace sitting: mediating role of social-cognitive constructs during a cluster randomised controlled trial” and is published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

As background, “the Stand Up Victoria multi-component intervention successfully reduced workplace sitting time in both the short (three months) and long (12 months) term. To further understand how this intervention worked, we aimed to assess the impact of the intervention on four social-cognitive constructs, and examined whether these constructs mediated intervention effects on workplace sitting time at 3 and 12 months post-baseline.”

The researchers took a thorough approach:

“Two hundred and thirty one office-based workers (14 worksites, single government employer) were randomised to intervention or control conditions by worksite. The intervention comprised organisational, environmental, and individual level elements. Participant characteristics and social-cognitive constructs (perceived behavioural control, barrier self-efficacy, perceived organisational norms and knowledge) were measured through a self-administered online survey at baseline, 3 months and 12 months.”

The results provide insights into how to motivate employees not only to understand the importance of movement in the workplace, but also how to take action:

“Strategies that aim to increase workers’ perceived control and self-efficacy over their sitting time may be helpful components of sedentary behavior interventions in the workplace.”

The study further notes:

“However, social-cognitive factors only partially explain variation in workplace sitting reduction. Understanding the importance of other levels of influence (particularly interpersonal and environmental) for initiating and maintaining workplace sedentary behavior change will be informative for intervention development and refinement.”

Time to Stand Up? New Research Reviews Problems with Sitting Too Much

We have written previously about the benefits of standing — and the dangers of sitting too much — during the day.

For example, we noted that — with more research linking a sedentary lifestyle to mortality and chronic diseases — Jacksonville University is conducting a study aimed at showing the impacts of standing on student health. The Florida Times Union reports that Jacksonville University is using “standing desks” to help reduce the eight to nine hours that a college student spends sitting during the day.

If standing at one’s desk carries benefits, a new study looks at the key question: How much?

The study is titled “Differences of energy expenditure while sitting versus standing: A systematic review and meta-analysis” and published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. As the authors write:

“Replacing sitting with standing is one of several recommendations to decrease sedentary time and increase the daily energy expenditure, but the difference in energy expenditure between standing versus sitting has been controversial. This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to determine this difference.”

“The objective of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to investigate the difference in (energy expenditure) between sitting and standing by pooling all available evidence. These results could determine if decreasing sitting time may be considered a valid strategy to decrease sedentary behaviour, increase the amount of daily EE and possibly decrease the risk of obesity and other metabolic and cardiovascular conditions.”

Standing Matters

The results? As MedPage Today reports:

“Standing more instead of sitting was associated with a modest increase in daily energy expenditure that may add up to weight loss in the long term, according to a meta-analysis. When standing, people burned an extra 0.15 calories a minute — 0.1 calories for women and 0.19 calories for men per minute. At that rate, a 65-kg person (143.3 lbs) could burn an extra 54 calories a day just by standing instead of sitting for 6 hours.”

The study authors wrote: “Assuming no increase in energy intake, this difference in energy expenditure would be translated into the energy content of about 2.5 kg [5.5 lbs] of body fat mass in 1 year.”

While that amount of weight loss may seem modest, other benefits from standing vs. sitting have been noted.

MedPage Today wrote:

“Time spent standing, rather than sitting, was associated with lower fasting plasma glucose, triglycerides, and cholesterol in a new study. Researchers attached a monitor to nearly 700 participants over 7 days and found that each additional 2 hours per day spent sitting was significantly associated with higher body mass index, waist circumference, fasting plasma glucose (about 1%), total/high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol ratio (5%), triglycerides (12%), 2-hour plasma glucose (4%), and with lower HDL cholesterol (0.07 mmol/L).”