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12 Sep 2014

Study aims to explore benefits of standing desks in Leicestershire hospitals

A Loughborough University academic expects workers in Leicestershire’s hospitals to feel ‘more energised and better psychologically” after using sit-stand desks during a £500,000 study.

Up to 100 sit-stand desks will be introduced for support staff in offices at three hospitals – the Infirmary, the General and Glenfield - to determine the effect they have on sedentary behaviour on NHS staff.

The study is being led by Dr Fehmidah Munir who believes the desks will have a dramatic impact on the health and well-being of those who use them because the evidence suggests sitting for eight hours a day is bad for people.

The three-year study comes at a time when sickness absence rates among NHS support staff is said to be high.

Dr Munir, Senior Lecturer in Psychology in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences (SSEHS), said: “Sitting is extremely harmful. It has been linked to a risk of diabetes, obesity, and a lot of metabolic diseases. People are sitting far too long.

“The world has changed in terms of what we do. We will sit at our desks for a long time and then go home and watch TV. So we are sitting again.

“The evidence now suggests that if you are sitting for eight, nine hours and you then do one hour of exercise, it has very little impact.

“I’m hoping to find that workers will feel much more energised because they are breaking up their bouts of sitting, and allowing the blood and oxygen to flow through the body better.

“And because they feel energised they will feel better psychologically. So their general well-being will improve.

“I’m also hoping to find that there will be less reporting of musculo-skeletal complaints, less aches and pains, and no adverse effects on work performance.”

The project, called SMArT Work (Stand More AT Work), is a collaborative venture between SSEHS, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Leicester – Loughborough Diet, Lifestyle and Physical Activity Biomedical Research Unit (BRU), and the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Active Living (ISEAL), Victoria University Melbourne, Australia.

It is being funded to the tune of £524,429 by the Department of Health and comes hot on the heels of a Loughborough-led pilot study in Bradford schools into whether sit-stand desks can help curb the UK’s obesity epidemic.

Workers will be able to raise or lower the desks depending whether they feel like standing or sitting.

Dr Munir said: “The aim of the research is to get people to break their prolonged periods of sitting and to look at ways of changing behaviour.

“And also to look at any other policy changes that are necessary, like using communal printers, and the position of waste bins, to make people get up and walk around.”

Dr Munir and her colleagues will spend the first year identifying areas where the desks can be introduced and researching people’s attitudes and behaviours in an attempt to make them receptive to the desks.

The desks will be introduced in the middle of next year and the researchers will monitor the differences in health, well- being and performance between those who use them and another group who use sitting desks.

Dr Munir believes sit-stand desks are the future and says Britain is lagging behind many countries in this area.

As an example she cited her recent visit to the National Research Centre for the Working Environment in Denmark.

She said: “Having been to Denmark and seen these desks I would say they are the way forward.

“The quality of the desks needs to be good. We also need changes in policy, behaviours, and attitudes because you could get a sit-stand desk and never stand up to use it.

“We are way behind Denmark. It was absolutely brilliant. Every office based worker had a desk that was electric, which could be raised or lowered at the press of a button.

“And they also had ergonomically designed chairs. The desks were being used and I think we need a cultural shift in attitude.

“In the canteen they had chairs that slotted into the tables. Once you had eaten you would slot the chair in so as to reduce the risk of musculo-skeletal issues among the cleaners.

“They didn’t have lifts, and there was a massive basket of fruit in the foyer so people could get one of their five a day.”

Notes for editors

Article reference number: PR14/156

Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, putting it among the best universities in the world, and was named Sports University of the Year 2013-14 by The Times and Sunday Times. Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and has been voted England's Best Student Experience for six years running in the Times Higher Education league. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

In 2015 the University will open an additional academic campus in London’s new innovation quarter. Loughborough University in London, based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, will offer postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities.

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