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Biology, Uncategorized

Standing desks and wobble boards: do they work together?

Last week I looked at some research on balance devices with athletes who engage in significant resistance training. I did this while standing on my own wobble board at my sit-stand desk. There are so many conflicting messages about using sit-stand desks and there seems to be research to support all of the different messages. We’ve all probably seen the “sitting is the new smoking” but then you hear that standing in a stationary position for too long is bad for you. To make matters more confusing the length of time that is too long also seems to vary depending on the research. Personally, I move around a lot at my desk. My top tip for forcing yourself to get up and move is drink lots of water: not only do you need to get up to fill your water bottle regularly, but you also have to get up to go to the bathroom. But that certainly isn’t enough movement for me and so I switch between sitting, standing, standing while stretching (yes, it looks weird) and standing on my wobble board. Generally speaking, I am very rarely still while standing at my desk.

Nelson, Casanova, and Vella (2018) have a new article (the link is to the published ahead of print version) that compared the energy expenditure, heart rate, and productivity of individuals under three different conditions – sitting, standing, and standing on a wobble board. The participants were between 18-65 y and all currently employed in sedentary jobs. About half of the participants were regular users of sit-stand desks. Just over half of the participants were female. And, the average BMI (body mass index) across the participants classified the group as a whole as obese. With this group, standing on the wobble board used more energy than standing which used more energy than sitting. Heart rate was higher compared to sitting but about equivalent for standing and standing on the wobble board. Productivity was not different across the conditions. The authors acknowledge that the changes in energy expenditure are not significant enough for this to consist of a weight loss plan; however, it is significant enough to be part of an overall plan for healthier living.


So here are my tips for standing on a wobble board while working:

  • Remember to adjust the height of the desk higher to account for the extra height from the wobble board
  • Set the wobble board at a distance from the desk that you aren’t tempted to lean against the desk but you aren’t reaching for your keyboard or mouse (or whatever else your working with)
  • Once you’re comfortable standing on the wobble board don’t be afraid to shift your feet around into different positions (the researchers in the article actually commented that everyone stayed very still on the wobble board but they suggested that a longer term study looked at whether people would shift their body position more
  • As you get better you can try different things like increasing the difficulty setting of your board (if applicable), standing on one foot, purposefully moving the wobble board when appropriate (I do this a lot if I’m attending a webinar)
  • Start with short bouts and switch positions frequently particularly at the beginning as you will find differences in how your muscles and your feet feel.
    • Choose your shoes wisely – I’ve tried standing in heels – because your balance is already forward you have to adjust your position accordingly, but you also have to be really careful as there is a greater possibility of twisting an ankle if you do lose your balance. One other thing to consider with shoes is how much your ankle can move. If your ankle is locked up similar to something like a hiking boot then your other leg muscles have to work differently to help you balance. For me, I actually prefer less ankle support so that I’m strengthening my ankles and improving my proprioception.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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