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  • Evidence on Standing Desk Benefits Doesn't Sit Well With Researchers

    Fans of standing desks may want to take a seat for this: apparently, it's hard to come by solid research confirming that the new trend in desks actually decreases time spent sitting.

    A newly released Cochrane review of studies on the effects of interventions aimed at reducing sitting time for office workers asserts that most evidence to date is of "low to very low quality." (APTA members can access the full text via the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews in PTNow ArticleSearch. Nonmembers can access the abstract only for free via PubMed.)

    The good news? That low-to-very-low quality evidence seems to point toward a reduction in sitting time when study participants used a "sit-stand desk" that would allow them to work standing up at least part of the time.

    Authors of the review found 8 trials that included 1125 participants in a range of initiatives designed to reduce sitting: 3 trials involving the use of sit-stand desks, 2 trials that looked at computer prompts to remind employees to stand and walk, and 1 trial each focused on walking strategies, mindfulness training, and information and counseling.

    Though they deemed the quality of the evidence "very low," authors write that the use of a sit-stand desk with no accompanying information or counseling reduced sitting time by 113 minutes per workday. The other interventions reviewed either had no effect or were inconsistent.

    Aside from the low-quality evidence about reduced sitting times, authors found low-quality evidence about effects of the sit-stand desks on musculoskeletal symptoms, workplace performance, reduction in sick days, or increase in any form of moderate-to-vigorous intensity physical activities.

    Still, authors note, physical inactivity at the workplace does increase overall risk of obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, which does warrant further research into interventions aimed to reduce sitting. The problem, they write, is coming up with research models that are sufficiently robust.

    "At workplaces it is difficult to randomize employees at an individual level,” authors write. “Employees receiving an intervention might influence their colleagues belonging to a control group within the same workplace." To avoid contamination, they recommend "a cluster-randomized design with at least 2 intervention sites and 2 control sites, but preferably many more."

    Authors also caution against limiting measurement to workplace only. "Reducing sitting at work is important," they write, "but compensatory mechanisms outside work, for example more sitting during leisure, might result in no net change in total sitting time."

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.

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