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Description: I was walking through my local Psychology department the other day and noticed that just about every Psychologist had a desk in their office with an adjustable top that allowed them to raise their computer up so they could either work sitting at their desk in a office chair OR they could stand at their desks and still work comfortably view their monitor and reach their mouse and keyboard while standing.  I was thinking, something must be “up” if all the academic research psychologists are set up with standing options on their workstations. Health research has been telling us, for a while now, that standing up from our desks and moving around even a little bit at regular intervals over the work day is beneficial from a health perspective. Research from this perspective has tended to look to physiological measures such as blood sugar and blood pressure.  So all well and good, we should move a bit rather than sitting at our computers all day for health reasons. But, how might standing up regularly, or better yet (from a health perspective), how might walking on a treadmill or gently pedaling a stationary bike at our desks for a few minutes each effect our thought processes? Think about how you would design a study to test this question. What would you have people do? Who would you include in the study (at least the first time you ran it). What would you measure to look at thinking or thought processes? Once you have your design in mind, oh and once you have a hypothesis in mind as well, read the article linked below and see what the researchers found.

Source: Thinking on Your Feet, Gretchen Reynolds, Well, Move, The New York Times Magazine.

Date: October 26, 2017


Photo Credit:  Kelsey Dake

Links:  Article Link — https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/26/well/move/thinking-brain-exercise.html

So, the research described in the linked article suggests that the short bits of movement improved thinking in the participants. There are two things we need to do, though, before deciding to simply tell people what sort of treadmill or stationary bike to get for their offices. First, we need to reflect a bit more on the results. Setting aside for the moment that we do not (at least from the linked article) know how the researchers measured thinking, we need to think about their explanations for their results. It may well be that the “physical and mental arousal” of activity DID improve attention, memory and related cognitive skills. But, it may simply have been driven by the novelty of the activity. Psychology has, for years, been aware of “Hawthorne effects” which indicate that basically any change in their environment can affect human performance. This is based on research done in the 1920’s and 1930’s at the Western Electric plant in Hawthorne (near Chicago) where it was discovered that worker production (temporarily) went up if you increased or decreased the light levels, shifted their work hours, their break schedule… any change lead to production increases. This leads to the idea that simply having someone observe and take interest in one’s work seemed to positively impact that work. So perhaps something like that is going on the motion study discussed in the linked article. Second, the participants in this study were selected for being rather sedentary and while that is an important group to reach and to change (behaviorally) it is NOT clear how far the results of the study can be generalized. So, yes, more research is needed but it is something that everyone of us who sit at our desks and computers for long stretches should be interested in. Try a few ideas out yourself such as 10 minutes of activity per hour of desk/studying work and see what is does for you.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What did the study described in the linked article suggest about standing, walking or cycling at your desk for a few minutes each hour?
  2. What sorts of things might you do if you cannot afford the currently rather steeply priced desk and office conversions necessary to do in your office what the people in the study did?
  3. What sorts of studies are needed before we can start to suggest personal health guidelines or organizational standards in this area?

References (Read Further):

The Hawthorne Effect, http://www.economist.com/node/12510632 (with additional reading links included).

Bhammar, D. M., Sawyer, B. J., Tucker, W. J., & Gaesser, G. A. (2017). Breaks in Sitting Time: Effects on Continuously Monitored Glucose and Blood Pressure. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 49(10), 2119-2130.

Gaesser, G. A., Tucker, W. J., Jarrett, C. L., & Angadi, S. S. (2015). Fitness versus fatness: which influences health and mortality risk the most?. Current sports medicine reports, 14(4), 327-332. http://www.academia.edu/download/45075551/Gaesser_et_al_Curr_Sports_Med_Rep_2015_F20160425-32228-wdprmt.pdf

MacEwen, B. T., MacDonald, D. J., & Burr, J. F. (2015). A systematic review of standing and treadmill desks in the workplace. Preventive medicine, 70, 50-58. http://www.academia.edu/download/40246614/A_systematic_review_of_standing_and_trea20151121-13577-b4ibz9.pdf

Straker, L., Dunstan, D., Gilson, N., & Healy, G. (2016). Sedentary work. Evidence on an emergent work health and safety issue. https://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:382931/UQ382931_OA.pdf

 

 

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