Study: Standing or walking at desk while working cuts stress, boosts productivity

QUEENSLAND, Australia — It’s been well-documented in recent years that sitting down all day at work can be terrible for your health — though the benefits of standing have been much more debatable. Now a new study takes the research a step further: standing up while you work and walking on a treadmill desk is excellent for the brain — boosting productivity and cutting stress levels.

Researchers at the University of Queensland monitored 20 adults who were tasked with completing work on three different desks: a sit-stand desk that allowed them to stand up while working; a sit-walk desk that had them walk slowly on the job; and a traditional sit-only desk.

Person using laptop at desk
A new study finds that using a sit-stand desk or a treadmill desk while working boosts productivity and can reduce stress levels.

The participants submitted saliva samples in both the morning and the afternoon to have their stress levels calculated, and they were fitted with electroencephalography (EEG) caps to monitor brain activity and attention levels while they worked.

When it came to the measurements of stress and attention, the results were clear. Using the sit-stand desk or the sit-walk desk left workers with lower levels of cortisol, the hormone that causes stress, and stronger focus.

“Desks that allow workers to alternate between sitting and standing or walking have shown beneficial effects that contribute to work productivity and successful business outcomes,” says lead researcher Nicholas Gilson, an associate professor with the university’s School of Human Movement and Nutrition Sciences, in a press release.

There was also a notable difference between the measured effects from walking while working and simply standing up. If you’re looking to lower stress, the treadmill desk showed the greatest reduction in cortisol levels (though the sit-stand was still effective). On the other hand, those who used the sit-stand desk showed stronger levels of brain activity while working than those on the treadmill.

“We found people who use activity-promoting desks were more able to focus on urgent tasks, avoid non-urgent tasks and manage stress better than people sitting at a desk all day,” says Gilson. “The workers who used sit-stand or walking desks allocated attention most effectively.”

The study was published last month in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.


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