Tackling Sedentary Behavior In The Workplace

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Interventions in workplace design can encourage active working for a healthier lifestyle.
  • COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of keeping active during working hours to combat sedentary behavior.
  • Interventions in workplace design to encourage active working can reduce sitting time by as much as 40 minutes over an 8-hour work day.
  • This can include movement-oriented workstations like sit-stand desks; activity-based zones such as focus pods; and the provision of ergonomic home-office equipment.

Over the past few years, tackling inactivity at work has become a key element of workplace wellness programs as organizations recognize the various benefits associated with improving the physical and mental health of employees.

While some gains had been made over the last 24 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated sedentary behavior among workers. 

“Throughout much of 2020, changes to our daily lives and restrictions on movement have further exacerbated the problem of sedentary behavior. With gyms and pools shut and team sports on hold for much of the year, normal exercise routines have been disrupted. Furthermore, home working limits the opportunity for movement during the working day, whether that’s walking or cycling as part of a commute, stopping at the gym on the way home or simply moving around the office.”

As a result, prioritizing active working has become more important than ever before, especially considering the documented dangers of prolonged sitting.

Suggested Reading: How Active Sitting Improves Wellness at Work

A recent report from AJ Products (UK) and ukactive looks at the risk factors of sedentary behavior and how companies can help tackle the issue at work, including measures that can be taken for employees working from home. 

The Dangers of Sedentary Behavior

According to the report, sedentary behavior can be defined as “sitting or reclining with low energy expenditure.”

This means that even adults who complete the recommended 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week can still be considered sedentary if they spend a large percentage of their day sitting or lying down. 

Below are some of the reasons why sedentary behavior is so detrimental to our health:

  • The World Health Organisation warns that sedentary lifestyles are associated with negative public health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, type-II diabetes and all-cause mortality. 
  • Evidence suggests that office workers spending eight hours a day sitting at a desk are up to 60% more likely to die early from diseases such as cancer and heart disease. 
  • Sedentary behavior leads to overall poor health. 
  • In the UK, sedentary behavior is associated with the two leading causes of workplace absence: back injuries and depression, which cost the economy £29 billion every year. 
  • Limiting sitting time to less than three hours per day could increase male and female life expectancy at birth in the USA by approximately 2.0 and 1.4 years respectively.

Why the Workplace Matters

The report argues that approximately half of total daily sitting time takes place at work. Because of this, “workplaces must play a proactive role in reducing sedentary behaviour and increasing activity among workers.”

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The good news is that interventions around workplace design have been shown to reduce sitting time by as much as 40 minutes over an 8-hour work day. 

This translates to an 8% reduction in total sitting time. 

This means that there is a clear opportunity to reimagine the workplace and home office to drive culture changes that can help reduce sedentary behavior. 

According to AJ Products and ukactive, “simple measures such as equipping offices and homes with better furniture and encouraging employees to increase their physical activity levels can mitigate the negative health effects associated with sedentary behaviour in the workplace.”

Strategies to Reduce Prolonged Sitting at Work

Physical activity guidelines recommend that adults reduce their total amount of sitting, but also that they break up long periods of sedentary behavior with light and easy movements. 

Attributes of spatial design can help promote regular movement throughout the day by encouraging walking and standing-up. Below are some suggestions presented by the report:

  • The use of alternative work stations (sit-stand desks, treadmill desks and pedal machines) 
  • The creation of activity-based zones (focus pods, lounge zones, casual group zones) 
  • The optimisation of connective spaces (integrating fun facts about distance to a conference room, stimulating corridor paths through visually-pleasing graphics or participatory graphics) 
  • The provision of ergonomic home-office equipment (laptop stands and sit-stand desks). 

AJ Products and ukactive estimate that these interventions can reduce sitting time by as much as 40 minutes in an 8-hour work day. 

Additional interventions, more dependent on company culture than design elements, include:

  • Encouraging all staff to take short, regular breaks throughout the day, even when working from home.
  • Limiting internal emails and encouraging staff to get up, speak to or call their colleagues when in the office. 
  • Centralising printers, copiers and waste bins to increase the amount of time employees stand up and move around. 
  • Educating staff about the benefits of integrating movement into their working day and providing them with examples of how best to do this in the office and at home. 
  • Encouraging and providing guidance for walking or standing meetings through the effectiveness of these interventions. 
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