Can a Standing Desk Enhance Your Brain?

May 19, 2021

 An employee multitasking on a standing desk

Ever have the feeling that your brain is slowing down as the day wears on ahead. Feeling sluggish in the afternoon? There is an answer to that. Scientific studies have confirmed that sedentary behavior or sitting down too much is associated with the reduced thickness of the medial temporal lobe, which contains the hippocampus, a brain region that is essential to learning and memory. 

It shows that standing up frequently during breaks can enhance cognition. Richard Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College said, “you don’t even have to move much to enhance cognition; just standing will do the trick.”

Two groups of subjects were selected to complete a test while either sitting or standing. The test which is called “Stroop” determines selective attention. Participants are shown with conflicting stimuli, like the word “green” printed in blue ink, and asked to name the color. Subjects standing on their feet defeated those who sitting by a 32-millisecond margin.

Standing desks have become popular as a healthier lifestyle compared to that the sedentary office habits that studies have shown it is steadily destroying our health. Standing in regular intervals enhances metabolic rates like calorie burn and blood flow. However, standing should not be treated as an alternative to exercise. But enough to make a small difference in the hazards of sitting for extended periods. Another benefit of standing desks may also give a brain boost by enhancing cognitive skills like focus and memory, according to a recent study.

Scientists examined the effects of substituting seats for standing desks in a high school classroom. Students using the desks were tested twice during the school year with four computerized exams created to measure executive functions – the cognitive skills which to solve tackle tasks and apply the steps to achieve objectives. Problem-solving, whether in a classroom or an office, depends on good executive functions.

The scientists speculate that standing desks can provide the same benefits as those of exercise programs. This enhances brain activity by increasing blood flow. The study showed using standing desks improved neurocognitive function, which is uniform with previous studies on school-based exercise programs. The next experiment is to directly compare the neurocognitive benefits of standing desks to school-based exercise programs.

The Cognitive Benefits of Standing Desks

Recently, doctors and journalists focused solely on the health benefits of stand-up desks, not only for health back problems but also in boosting mental faculties too. We’ll discuss the cognitive benefits of standing here.  

1. Stand Up Desks Can Improve Cognition

In a study from Brain, a journal by the Oxford University Press, standing up boost cerebral circulation in the visual association cortex, midbrain, and anterior and posterior vermis. This gives the brain the blood, nutrients, and oxygen it needs. To enhance greater blood circulation, standing can bring healthier, more regulated blood sugar levels, a factor that affects memory function. When sitting, blood glucose increases and can compromise the hippocampus, which leads to a decline in cognitive functioning over time.

The physical activity from standing desk usage helps in improved long-term cognitive performance. Research shows that as people age, there is a tendency for some regions of the brain to begin to shrink, particularly the hippocampus which shrinks one to two percent every year with people without dementia. But adults who do even a modest amount of physical activity seem to show an increase in the size of the hippocampus by two percent.     

2. Greater Productivity and Alertness

The benefits of stand-up desks in the office space are potentially huge. Productivity levels increases and standing eliminate metabolic drop. Known also as the “mid-morning/afternoon slump.” 

With increased blood flow, headaches are reduced, and therefore, less likely to interfere with your work. 

3. Collective Intelligence by Collaborative Workspaces

Several minds working together can achieve their objectives quickly. Collective intelligence can let the companies make better decisions, giving employees the to discard their office silos and collaborate on valuable knowledge. Collaborative work environments have become more popular in recent years, used by companies, such as Facebook, Apple, Google, and Pixar, for encouraging group collaboration that inspires ingenuity. 

What does this sitting down doing to the brains?

A study made by Dr. Prabha Siddarth at the University of California, Los Angeles showed that sedentary behavior results in a reduced thickness of the medial temporal lobe. This contains the hippocampus, a brain area necessary for learning and memory.

Researchers questioned 35 healthy individuals aged 45 to 70 about their activity levels, which includes how much time they spent sitting every day, and then gave an MRI brain scan to all of them. Results showed that those who sat for extended periods all had a thinner medial temporal lobe than those who are sitting less.

A thinning medial temporal lobe seems to speculate a possible impairment in learning and memory.

What is more interesting is when they compared the brains of people with high levels of physical activity against those with less physical activity, there was no real difference. The only difference between those sitting for longer, no matter how much exercise they did. It would seem that even exercising isn't significant enough to guard against the negative effects of sitting for most of the day.

Is it good enough to change standard office workstations with sit-stand desks?

It is becoming evident that our habits, lifestyles, and health are associated with how well we perform at work. Employers are finding innovative ways to make our working lives more comfortable and boosting productivity, and for many of their customers, the results are promising.

Conclusion

 It’s a good bet that getting rid of sitting desks in favor of standing desks can help improve the cognitive faculties of most people. But this is the first time scientific studies have associated the use of standing desks with a change in cognitive function. It is too early to tell if they can benefit the workers in the long run. More studies are needed to conclude that standing up does improve our brain functions.

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