Standing workstations appear on campus

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January 3, 2014

By Annie Dittberner '17

You might see more people standing around in the office these days at CSB and SJU.

But don't get the wrong impression-they're being productive at a new workstation.

Sit-to-stand workstations, also known as standing desks, are proven to have beneficial effects on individuals, including a longer life expectancy, reductions in fatigue and better overall health. The workstations are designed to allow users to move a desktop/work area to a height that can be used while standing as well as a height that can be used while sitting.

Mary Stenson, assistant professor of exercise science and sports studies at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University, said this work environment flexibility can have positive effects. She attended the American College of Sports Medicine national meeting in 2012 and learned the harmful effects of being sedentary.

"I learned how sitting for several hours throughout the day is dangerous to personal health, which made me think about how sedentary my life is now," she said. "Even though I'm a runner, I sit for most of the day. You can still be sedentary even if you're active."

This new information gave Stenson an idea: install standing desks in her classrooms. At the start of the 2013-14 academic year, the exercise science department added standing desks to half of the classrooms in Murray Hall at CSB. The exercise science and athletic departments were two of the first departments on campus to have standing workstations not only for students, but faculty and staff as well.

Students in Stenson's courses learn about sedentary physiology and the dangers of being sedentary. "Allowing them to stand during class is another way for them to incorporate what they learn into their everyday lives," Stenson said.

So far, the student response has been positive. Stenson says that the students who stand tend to be more engaged and focused. However, she said, it's hard to measure the effects without baseline values.

Stenson plans to find these baseline numbers through a research project during spring semester. She will require half of her students use standing desks for half the class and the other half of the students to sit for half the class. She plans to measure the engagement, focus, productivity, blood glucose levels and other physiological metrics of her students.

"I believe that one healthy behavior can lead to another," Stenson said. "My hope this that the choice to stand is transferred to other areas of people's lives such as eating healthy, exercising, moving more and taking breaks while sitting."

What are the benefits of standing desks?

The use of a standing desk encourages movement, allowing individuals to stay active throughout the entire day. Researchers compare standing to walking; it increases energy, burns extra calories, tones muscles, improves posture, increases blood flow and speeds up metabolism.

Stenson said standing workstations decrease the risk of chronic health problems like heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even cancer. In addition, research shows a decrease in blood glucose and insulin levels. By encouraging moving and standing rather than sitting, these standing desks reduce a user's risk of blood clots and help decrease loss of bone marrow density over time.

The use of a standing desk is not limited to burning calories, decreasing risk of disease and living longer. Studies show that using a standing desk can make individuals more alert, energetic and focused at the task at hand. It has been proven that when workers are equipped with sit-stand workstations, prolonged sitting is reduced and mood states improve.

"Personally, I have noticed an increase in productivity in myself. I also focus better because I'm not sidetracked by my computer," Stenson said.

Users of standing desks have the ability to choose whether they want to sit or stand, making these workstations equally versatile as they are beneficial. With this option, experts encourage new users to trade off every half hour between sitting and standing.

Stenson also recommends new users to start slowly. "It's important to start out by standing for only a few hours a day and gradually work your way up," she said. "I also recommend to wear comfortable shoes. Uncomfortable shoes can lead to lower back pain if you're standing throughout the day."

Are there standing desks on campus?

A marketing campaign at CSB and SJU called JustStand aims to create awareness of the dangers of excessive sitting. JustStand began at CSB and SJU through Enactus, a community of student, academic and business leaders committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to transform lives and shape a better and more sustainable world.

CSB senior Katie Minnehan is the project leader for the JustStand campaign at CSB and SJU. Minnehan has been involved in Enactus for the past two years. She decided to take on the role of a project leader for the JustStand campaign after thinking about a future career in a traditional office environment.

"A lot of us will end up in office positions, where we will be sitting all day," Minnehan said. "I want students in particular to understand the extreme health benefits of using standing workstations."

JustStand partners with Ergotron, a standing desk manufacturer, to install these desks throughout campus.

Minnehan and Stenson said they expect more standing desks on campus in the future.

Along with those classrooms in Murray Hall, there are five standing desk workstations in the Clemens Library computer lab. JustStand is planning to install more standing desks at SJU, preferably in Sexton Commons.