Us­ing A Stand­ing Desk Could Give Your Brain A Boost


Stand­ing desks have grown in pop­u­lar­ity as an al­ter­na­tive to the seden­tary of­fice life­style that re­cent stud­ies have shown is slowly but steadily killing us. Stand­ing in in­ter­vals boosts meta­bolic met­rics like calo­rie burn and blood flow—per­haps not sig­nif­i­cantly, and not as a re­place­ment for ex­er­cise, but enough to make a small dent in the tyranny of the of­fice chair. Now a new study sug­gests that stand­ing desks may also pro­vide a brain boost by en­hanc­ing cog­ni­tive skills like fo­cus and mem­ory.

Re­searchers ex­am­ined the ef­fects of swap­ping seats for stand­ing desks in a high school class­room. Stu­dents us­ing the desks were eval­u­ated twice dur­ing the school year with four com­put­er­ized tests de­signed to eval­u­ate ex­ec­u­tive func­tions—the cog­ni­tive skills we use to fig­ure out the best way to tackle tasks and im­ple­ment the steps to achieve ob­jec­tives. Prob­lem solv­ing of any fla­vor, whether in a class­room or an of­fice, de­pends on well-run­ning ex­ec­u­tive func­tions.

One of the tests used a por­ta­ble brain-imag­ing de­vice to track brain ac­ti­va­tion pat­terns in the frontal

brain, where most ex­ec­u­tive func­tions orig­i­nate. Lead study au­thor Ranjana Me­hta, PhD, of the Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal and Oc­cu­pa­tional Health at Texas A&M, re­ported that “con­tin­ued use of stand­ing desks was as­so­ci­ated with sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments in [the stu­dents’] ex­ec­u­tive func­tion and work­ing mem­ory ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”

The re­searchers think that stand­ing desks may pro­vide ad­van­tages sim­i­lar to those of ex­er­cise pro­grams, which boost brain ac­tiv­ity by en­hanc­ing blood flow. “In­ter­est­ingly, our re­search showed the use of stand­ing desks im­proved neu­rocog­ni­tive func­tion, which is con­sis­tent with re­sults from pre­vi­ous stud­ies on school-based ex­er­cise pro­grams,” Me­hta said. “The next step would be to di­rectly com­pare the neu­rocog­ni­tive ben­e­fits of stand­ing desks to school-based ex­er­cise pro­grams.”

This is the first time re­search has linked use of stand­ing desks to an ob­serv­able change in cog­ni­tive func­tion. The im­pli­ca­tions for schools are po­ten­tially sig­nif­i­cant, since even a small cog­ni­tive edge could help many stu­dents boost per­for­mance. And al­though the study didn’t ex­am­ine other set­tings, it’s con­ceiv­able that of­fice work­ers could ben­e­fit in sim­i­lar ways. The same un­der­ly­ing prin­ci­ples ap­ply, and the same set of ex­ec­u­tive func­tions are in play.

The study was pub­lished in the In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal of En­vi­ron­men­tal Re­search and Pub­lic Health.


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