Standing desks could make kids smarter

Friday, Jan 15, 2016,15:44 IST By Metrovaartha A A A

Washington | The introduction of standing desks in classrooms could make children smarter by improving their cognitive performance, a new study by an Indian-origin researcher has found. The study provides the first evidence of neurocognitive benefits of stand-height desks in classrooms, where students are given the choice to stand or sit based on their preferences, researchers said. Ranjana Mehta, assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Centre School of Public Health, researched high school students with who used standing desks. Testing was performed at the beginning and again at the end of their freshman year.

Through using an experimental design, Mehta explored the neurocognitive benefits using four computerised tests to assess executive functions. Executive functions are cognitive skills we all use to analyse tasks, break them into steps and keep them in mind until we get them done. These skills are directly related to the development of many academic skills that allow students to manage their time effectively, memorise facts, understand what they read, solve multi-step problems and organise their thoughts in writing. Because these functions are largely regulated in the frontal brain regions, a portable brain-imaging device (functional near infrared spectroscopy) was used to examine associated changes in the frontal brain function by placing biosensors on students’ foreheads during testing.

Test results indicated that continued use of standing desks was associated with significant improvements in executive function and working memory capabilities, Mehta said. Changes in corresponding brain activation patterns were also observed, she said. In earlier studies that primarily focused on energy expenditure, teachers observed increased attention and better behaviour of students using standing desks. Mehta’s research is the first study not subject to bias or interpretation that objectively exams students’ cognitive responses and brain function while using standing desks.

Interestingly, our research showed the use of standing desks improved neurocognitive function, which is consistent with results from previous studies on school-based exercise programmes, Mehta said. This is the first examination of students’ cognitive responses to the standing desks, which to date have focused largely on sedentary time as it relates to childhood obesity, added Mark Benden, co-researcher and director of the Texas A&M Ergonomics Centre. Continued investigation of this research may have strong implications for policy makers, public health professionals and school administrators to consider simple and sustainable environmental changes in classrooms that can effectively increase energy expenditure and physical activity as well as enhance cognitive development and education outcomes.

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