Are Active Work Stations the Answer to Employee Health?

By Jonathan Dugas

The recent study by Carr et al. contributes to the growing body of evidence seeking to demonstrate how workplace interventions can impact employee health. This was a simple 12-week study in which the experimental group received a desk pedaling device combined with emails 3x/week and a smartphone app to track their activity.

Participants decreased their sedentary time significantly, averaging 50min of pedaling daily. However, participants accumulated that time over 19 individual sessions of pedaling, each only 4-5min. Was this a successful intervention?

The answer is not straightforward, because although physical activity time increased over 11%, cardiometabolic outcomes (weight, fat mass, and resting heart rate) did not improve. Participants shifted slightly along the continuum of physical activity, moving away from being mostly sedentary at work. That is a small victory. The lack of measurable cardiometabolic outcomes is not surprising considering that official recommendations are to do at least 10min of moderate to vigorous physical activity at a time, and these individuals completed only half of that at light intensity.

Decreasing sedentary time at work is imperative, and providing active work stations is just one way to achieve this. Yet this approach comes with hidden concerns – namely, is my employer tracking my activity? Proactively addressing such data/privacy challenges is the objective of our call for public commentary on the ethical use of personal health technology. The intensity of the activity is also an issue. Will individuals ever engage in moderate to vigorous activity at their desk when it means being sweaty in work clothes?

Presently, active work stations make it easy to accumulate low-intensity physical activity. That decreases sedentary time but does not produce the substantial health benefit that only moderate to vigorous activity can provide. So are these “at desk” interventions equally as effective as 10min or more of continuous activity outside the workspace? That remains to be seen; what we need are controlled trials comparing work station interventions with more typical physical activities away from the desk or other interventions that promote active transportation like walking as part of a daily commute.

Until then, we encourage everyone to be as active as possible within their environment – whether pedaling at their desk, using standing desks, taking frequent breaks to walk around, or going for a 15min walk outside. Choosing to be active when possible is the first “step” to internalizing an active lifestyle and avoiding sedentary behavior.

What do you do to stay active during the day? Would you use a pedaling device at work? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments below!


Thumbnail image credit: Adventures in Editing blog

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