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.