To what extent does working from a standing desk affect working memory?
Robertson, Islay Louise
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Citation:Robertson, I. L. (2016). To what extent does working from a standing desk affect working memory? An unpublished thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Osteopathy, Unitec Institute of Technology, New Zealand.
Permanent link to Research Bank record:https://hdl.handle.net/10652/3504
Many people in the workforce currently sit for prolonged periods throughout the work day. This increase in sedentary behaviour has been linked with negative health effects. It has been shown that these effects occur independently of the amount of exercise an individual participates in outside these sitting periods, thus standing desks could be a way to reduce sedentary behaviour in the workplace. However, there are some concerns about how the user’s work performance could be impacted by standing desks. This study aims to examine the effects of standing and sitting on cognitive performance, to better understand the implications of standing in the workplace. This study is a counterbalanced, randomised, crossover design of 30 healthy adults aged 18-50 years. Participants were required to perform a 7.5-hour day of cognitive tasks, simulating the cognitive load of a typical work day. This thesis investigated changes in working memory performance during standing compared to sitting. Four tasks were used to test working memory: Letter-number sequencing, Arithmetic (both adapted from the Wechsler adult intelligence scale version 4, WAIS-IV), Visual reproduction and Spatial span (adapted from the Wechsler memory scale version 4, WMS-IV). Performance was measured at three time points across each testing day (Morning, Midday and Afternoon), with randomly allocated standing or sitting condition for the first day, followed by a one-week minimum washout period, and the alternative standing or sitting condition for the final study day. A within-subjects analysis was conducted using two-way repeated measure ANOVAs to identify main effects of Condition and Time of Day on each measure. The results of this study found a significant improvement in working memory performance for the Spatial span task when using a standing desk (p = 0.015). The other three tasks showed there was no significant difference in working memory abilities when sitting or standing. These findings suggest that it is unlikely the work performance of healthy adults will be negatively impacted by the introduction of a standing desk. Individual’s work performance may even be improved by using a standing desk, during particular tasks that require visuospatial working memory ability. These promising data will encourage those who are considering implementing a standing desk in the workplace, to counter the deleterious health effects of a sedentary lifestyle.