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Changing the way we work: elevating energy expenditure with workstation alternatives

Abstract

Emerging evidence supports the feasibility of raising daily energy expenditure (EE) by replacing office work-related sedentary behavior with low-intensity non-exercise physical activity (PA) via workstation alternatives to the traditional office chair and desktop computer-based combinations. The purpose of this review article is to introduce a simple taxonomy to facilitate classification and study of workstation alternatives, catalog the diversity of research undertaken to date related to energy balance, and present and summarize the gaps and opportunities for a research agenda for workstation alternatives moving forward. A PubMed search elicited 57 English language articles published since 2000; additional articles were identified by reviewing reference sections and contacting authors. Selection criteria ultimately focused on use of workstation alternatives during simulated or real work tasks. The EE of sitting on a stability ball or using sit–stand/standing desks is comparable to the traditional seated condition (1.2 kcal min−1). The treadmill and pedal desks (active workstation alternatives) offer the greatest promise in terms of EE (2–4 kcal min−1). Sitting on a stability ball or using sit–stand/standing desks does not impair task performance relative to the traditional seated condition. Some evidence of typing impairment is inconsistently reported with active workstation alternatives; the finer motor skills required for mouse-related tasks may be more affected. Little is known about learning or adaptation with practice. Users are generally accepting of workstation alternatives; however, there is evidence of less than optimal use. Active workstations (that is, treadmill desks and pedal desks) in particular represent a potential strategy for mitigating the diminished EE inherent to contemporary office-based workplaces, but only if they are scalable. The science supporting active workstations is young and heterogeneous; however, this means that there are many knowledge gaps and opportunities for research, including those focused on implementation issues related to optimizing both employers’ and workers’ uptake.

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Correspondence to C Tudor-Locke.

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Competing interests

Dr Tudor-Locke and her husband, Mr Gerald R Locke, co-invented and thus own intellectual property for a workstation alternative device that is not presented in this review of published literature. We are currently conducting research with the device. The remaining authors declare no conflict of interest.

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All authors contributed to this manuscript and approved its final content. CT-L led the writing of this manuscript while alternating between a treadmill desk (3.2 km h−1 as indicated by device display, no incline; wearing business attire and athletic shoes) and a pedal desk (52–56 r.p.m. and 40–44 watts as indicated by Garmin Vector Power Meter Pedals, no resistance; wearing business attire and a range of footwear including high heels). She says she doesn’t sweat.

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Tudor-Locke, C., Schuna, J., Frensham, L. et al. Changing the way we work: elevating energy expenditure with workstation alternatives. Int J Obes 38, 755–765 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2013.223

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2013.223

Keywords

  • occupation
  • sedentary behavior
  • sitting
  • workplace
  • physical activity

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