The revolutionary study that made hundreds of people get active at work

We need to get moving in the office.
We need to get moving in the office.

Texas A&M University researcher, Dr Parag Sharma, challenged himself to find a way to get people off their butts at work, quite literally. The 29-year-old led a revolutionary study into electric sit-stand desks which saw 194 workers receive notifications – to get up.

“The challenge remains for an effective method to increase the usage [of sit-stand desks] in order to experience [its] health and productivity benefits,” Sharma notes in his research. The public health researcher conducted a one year study which used computer software to reverse office workers’ inactivity, with the study taking place in Australia.

Read more: Tips from The CEO of Fitbit on making the most of your work day

Government based company, Comcare’s, offices were used in Canberra, Melbourne, and Sydney, and it was the first study of its kind to collect workers’ sit-stand desk data behaviour over a one year period. What’s more, Sharma managed to account for time spent only at the workstation, which allowed a more accurate representation of workspace and sedentary behaviour.

“This was the first longitudinal trial of software in the workplace to prompt workers to reduce sedentary behaviour,” Texas A&M University’s Ergonomics Center director, Sharma’s research partner, as well as author of Could You Stand to Lose, Dr Mark Benden, told MH.

And the results saw Sharma and his team come out on top. The study showed a 76% reduction in workers who never used the sit-stand function of the electric desk, plus the intervention doubled desk sit-stand usage. The computer notification, which told workers to change desk positions, caused up to a 45% increase in overall standing time.

The real change 

According to the study, in order to reduce the risk of obesity, adults need “moderate to vigorous activity for a recommended 150 minutes per week”. But office workers weren’t hitting the mark. Plus, according to research, bouts of sitting time longer than 20–30 minutes are associated with increased a risk of type-2 diabetes.

But frequent disruptions in sitting positions can reduce metabolic risk, improve postprandial glucose metabolism, triglyceride levels, BMI, and waist circumference. Office worker physical activity should become a normal part of our office routine. We will have to do more than just provide equipment, we will have to actively assist workers in the small daily choices to move or sit still.

Read more: How I lost weight and got ripped with intermittent fasting

To date, studies using sit-stand desks with computer reminders have met the primary intention of reducing sitting time while increasing standing time and position changes with office workers However, these short-term studies have not taken into account the time individuals are absent from the workstation (meetings, breaks, lunch).

Before the study from Texas A&M University, studies using sit-stand desks with computer reminders did not take into account the time people were away from their desks. With the university’s study monitoring when workers went to lunch, meetings and so on – allowing for exact behavioural data, which could change the way we sit at our desks in future.

Read more: This is why we’re sticking to our bad habits this year

“Our goal moving forward is to make active workstations incorporated into the workplace culture,” Sharma tells us. “It is important for companies to invest the health and well-being, and those that do are 2-4% more profitable.”

And now that he’s got all the data, there’s little reason for companies to not make the change. “Upper-level management must believe in making the change for its workers and understand the importance of physical activity during the day.

The change we could see in future

“Now that we can quantify the usage of sit-stand desks, next we would like to see the similar methods from this research used to help create gamification (friendly competition) among workers,” adds Sharma.

Read more: The drone that will deliver you coffee plus predict when you need it

“They would compete against each other for sit-stand desk usage, with the end goal being to promote an active workplace environment, help sustain behaviour change, and create enterprise-wide goals for well-being.” Fitness, games, and office competition? This is a study the Men’s Health HQ could definitely get behind.

Originally published on

Image credit: iStock

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