Standing desks, which allow people to stand while they work, could improve student cognition and health, according to a small study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Sitting for long periods of time poses a number of health risks, according to the Mayo Clinic. Those include higher blood pressure and blood sugar, increased fat around the waist, and unhealthy cholesterol levels. Excessive sitting may also increase the risk of death due to heart disease and cancer.
Can Standing Desks Improve Performance?
A team of researchers, led by Ranjana Mehta of the Texas A&M School of Public Health, theorized that because exercise can boost cognitive performance, standing desks might have a similar effect. To test their hypothesis, they worked with 27 Texas high school freshmen. The school had recently switched to a classroom structure that gave the students the option of standing at standing desks, sitting on a stool, or switching between the two. Prior to the switch, the students had not used standing desks at school.
At the beginning of the school year, researchers administered five neurocognitive tests designed to measure working memory, cognitive flexibility, reasoning skills, rapid decision-making, and the ability to modify cognitive strategies. The team also used a portable functional near infrared spectroscope to monitor brain activity in 14 of the students during the tests. They repeated the same tests at the end of the school year, after students had worked in classrooms featuring standing desks.
Compared to the beginning of the school year, students had increased activity in the brain’s left prefrontal cortex—an area thought to be associated with executive functioning and working memory. Their tests results also showed overall improvements in cognitive functioning.
Future Research on Standing Desks
Future studies could use larger sample sizes and a control group to fully assess the preliminary findings.
- Levine, J. A., MD, PhD. (2015, September 4). What are the risks of sitting too much? Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/sitting/faq-20058005
- Mehta, R., Shortz, A., & Benden, M. (2015). Standing up for learning: A pilot investigation on the neurocognitive benefits of stand-biased school desks. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health IJERPH, 13(1), 59. doi:10.3390/ijerph13010059
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