Students showed improved brain function after using standing desks for six months. Anecdotal evidence from teachers showed high school students behaved and concentrated better when using standing desks compared to the conventional sitting desks in schools.

The study involved 34 freshmen high school students who used standing desks in their classes. At two points throughout the school year, computerized tests examined the students' executive functions, which are greatly controlled in the brain's frontal regions. Using a technique called functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), the researchers mapped out the student's brain activity during the tests.

"Test results indicated that continued use of standing desks was associated with significant improvements in executive function and working memory capabilities. Changes in corresponding brain activation patterns were also observed," said Ranjana Mehta, an assistant professor at Ph.D., Texas A&M School of Public Health.

The findings were published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

After half a year of using standing desks, the students showed 7 to 14 percent increased cognitive performance across working memory tasks and various executive functions. The fNIRS brain scans also showed increased activity in the brain's left frontal lobe in three out of five tasks.

The researchers, who called the study an explanatory paper, cautioned people about the study's many limitations, including a small number of participants and a limited number of testing sessions. The original 34 also decreased to just 27 towards the end of the experiment. Moreover, the study didn't have a control group to compare their findings.

The research team is currently involved in a two-year experiment that will convert a Texas high school's conventional seated classroom to a standing one. If the results of this larger study will complement the previous findings, standing desks can be used to implement a positive change in schools and improve academic performance.

"Interestingly, our research showed the use of standing desks improved neurocognitive function," Mehta said. She also added that previous studies on school-based fitness programs resulted in the same increase, and expressed that the next step is to conduct a direct comparison between the two activities.

The team highlighted that unlike school-based exercise programs, the use of standing desks do not require additional training, instructional time, or accommodations.

Photo: Robert Couse-Baker | Flickr

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