Three different strategies to reduce the
amount of time people spend sitting at work seemed effective, in a new study.
But in jobs without flexible schedules, they only reduced sitting time by about
eight minutes per day. "We were surprised by how difficult it was to reduce
sedentary time and that no one approach seemed better than the other
approaches," Leon Straker said. He worked on the study at Curtin
University in Perth, Australia.
Lots of attention has been paid recently to
the dangers of too much sitting, especially for people glued to desk jobs in an
office every day.
Research has linked excessive sitting to high blood pressure, obesity and heart
disease. Hitting the gym outside work hours doesn't seem to fully offset those
Employees in office desk jobs should keep
in mind their total amount of sitting time, and times spent sitting without a
break for 30 minutes or more, Straker said. "Breaking up long periods of
sitting with a short active break – like walking to get a drink – is probably
the easiest thing to do for most workers, but the challenge is to remember and
actually move," he told Reuters Health.
He and his colleagues tested three models
for getting office employees up and moving. They randomly assigned Australians
from three different workplaces to get one of the anti-sitting interventions.
One group had access to active
workstations, with treadmill or cycling desks, which they were recommended to
use for 10 to 30 minutes several times per day.
A "traditional exercise" group
promoted light to moderate physical activity on breaks and before and after
The third group adopted ergonomic
workstations, broke up computer tasks and practiced "active sitting",
which involves moving around more often and periodically perching on the edge
of the chair.
The employees met several times over 12
weeks to discuss putting the measures in place and tried using them. A total of
133 people were enrolled in the study and divided between the three groups. Of
them, 62 finished the study and worked enough days to be included in the
Before the interventions started and again
during their final week, participants wore small devices attached to a belt to
measure their sedentary time.
'Active office' approach
For each workplace strategy, employees
spent about eight fewer minutes sitting per day – a reduction in sedentary time
of one to two percent, according to results published in PLOS One. "We
expected the 'Active office' approach to be more effective at reducing work
time sedentariness – however organisations found it quite hard to implement the
regular use of active workstations," Straker said.
These techniques might be best for people
able to manage their own time, with flexible working hours and self-monitored
breaks, the authors wrote. Of the three offices used for the study, one – which
primarily was concerned with data processing – had scheduling flexibility, and
its workers saw the greatest reduction in sitting time with the interventions.
The other two organisations were more rigid and their workers had smaller
In each case the effects were small, but
could be significant if everyone took part at work, Mark Tremblay said.
Tremblay is the director of Healthy Active
Living and Obesity Research at Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research
Institute in Ottawa. He was not involved in the new study. "This work is in
its infancy," Tremblay told Reuters Health.
Productivity is paramount
"A 1% change might not be substantial in
and of itself, but it could be the start of a cascade of lifestyle
changes," that might lead to real individual health benefits, he
said. "It's encouraging in one respect that there may be some healthy
active living modifications that will work for anybody," Tremblay said.
But a pervasive office culture where productivity is paramount makes it hard to
make even small changes in some workplaces, he said.
"Reducing overall time in sitting may
be challenging for some workers, but it is often possible to identify work
tasks that can be done standing or gently walking, and workers can also look at
how they commute and spend their leisure time to look for opportunities to sit
less and move more," Straker said.
Tremblay suggests standing while on the
phone, having walking meetings and using a more distant bathroom than the one
you usually use. "Introducing a modest amount of discomfort into your day
can be good for your health," he said.
(Picture: Businessman resting from Shutterstock )