Friendly reminders, sit-stand desks make for healthier workers, study says

Hey, office worker – yes, you, sitting at your desk for hours and hours at a time. You need to stand up, sit less and move more, researchers say.

Sit-stand desks may be a solution, according to Mark Benden, Ph.D., CPE, director of the Ergonomics Center at Texas A&M University. He discovered that the very thing that made us less active — technology — can be used to encourage activity.

That means using office furniture designed for sitting and standing encourages office workers to move around more, which is better for your work, your body and your overall health, according to Benden.

A sit-stand desk is a height-adjustable platform placed on top of the desk itself. The desk users are required to lift or lower the platform to change to sitting and standing heights.

Sit-stand desks have become an international trend. However, utilization rates are still below expectations. Therefore, they are unlikely, at typical use levels, to produce the type of health impacts researchers like Benden had hoped to achieve.

He evaluated the use of computer-prompted reminders to determine if the frequency of position in sit-stand desks changed. The study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, is the first to measure digital, objective data about desktop, sit-stand desk usage.

Research buddies
Benden’s research subjects were staff members at Texas A&M University. “Texas A&M is a living learning laboratory, and we have thousands of office workers here on campus who may benefit from this work,” he said.

Sedentary lifestyles are one of the biggest health risks to this generation, Benden said. He says it is crucial for people to routinely change positions and hopefully pick up extra steps in the process as core strength increases and ambulation occurs more frequently.

“If we can find ways to get office workers to stand up and move more throughout the day, then those little movements will do a lot to help their overall health,” he said. “The act of moving back and forth between sitting and standing uses more energy than either sitting or standing alone.”

Sitting study
A research team led by Benden and Parag Sharma, DrPH, a recent doctoral graduate of the School of Public Health and clinical data scientist at Humana, tested a new computer-based software intervention. The software aimed to increase the number of position changes in a group of workers within the Division of Student Affairs on the Texas A&M University campus.

To start the study, researchers installed the software, which was designed to use reminders to change the position of their sit-stand desks and monitor workers’ computer use time, and a USB accelerometer sensor, which measured the height of the desk.

The first phase of the study only monitored workers’ computer use time and the position of the desk. This phase lasted three months and provided a baseline of the activity of the participants. The second phase of the study lasted two months and utilized the software to remind the participants to stand for 10 minutes after every 30 minutes of sitting. Also, the software displayed statistics about percentage of time they personally stood and remained seated.

After collecting the data, researchers found the software proved effective in getting office workers to stand more often than they did before the software reminders. During the first phase, the participants completed one desk position change per every two working days. However, during the second phase, they, on average, completed one desk position change every day.

Friendly reminders
“The people who needed to sit and stand the most, as in the people who tended to remain the most sedentary throughout the day, responded the most to this software,” Benden said. “A group of participants did not use the sit-stand desk at all during the first phase. However, with the software reminders, not a single person failed to use their sit-stand desk.”

After the second phase, the researchers gave the participants a survey. The results of the survey indicated 51 percent of the workers were influenced and more motivated by observing their co-workers’ habits with the sit-stand desks rather than by the software reminders. The social context for reducing sedentary behavior is an important finding for future studies.