Standing Desks Might Improve Student Performance, Health

Student doing homework at a standing deskStanding 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

The study did not compare students to a control group, so it is impossible to assert for certain that the changes in cognitive functioning were due to the standing desks. The study’s authors suggest a year’s worth of education is unlikely to produce significant changes in test scores or brain function.

Future studies could use larger sample sizes and a control group to fully assess the preliminary findings.


  1. Levine, J. A., MD, PhD. (2015, September 4). What are the risks of sitting too much? Retrieved from
  2. 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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  • Trish


    January 19th, 2016 at 2:16 PM

    So this is not exactly the same thing but my boss added a little fitness room for us, not a ton of stuff but a few things that we could go work out on while reading or holding on the phone or something like that. I have more energy throughout the day, I feel better, and it helps to pass the time when you are doing things that could be a little tedious. It has been a great boost for all of us in the office I believe.

  • Barb


    January 19th, 2016 at 6:36 PM

    I love this article! Working with school aged children for 15 years, I have seen first hand the importance of movement and having options to stand instead of sitting. These options can greatly benefit children’s wellbeing and academic functioning. Thanks for sharing this very important article. I will take it back for my colleagues to read 😀

  • jeanne


    January 20th, 2016 at 9:38 AM

    All school admin should have to see this, especially for the kids who are always labeled this and that and really what they need is a little bit of freedom to move around

  • Pat


    January 22nd, 2016 at 8:38 AM


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