Sit less, stand more – tackling office sedentary behaviour

It’s time to face facts – we’re just not active enough. And all that sitting down is bad for your health. But what can be done to change this? Loughborough University’s health and wellbeing experts give their view.

In today’s working world, sedentary behaviour is rife in offices not just in the UK, but around the world – and you’re most probably reading this from your desk right now. This week, we will be speaking at the Active Working Summit in London to share important research relating to sedentary behaviour.

Put plainly, sedentary behaviour should not be considered ‘the norm’ – it is a modern day trend which needs to be reversed and fast. Our ancestors didn’t spend anywhere near as much time sitting; they were hunters and gatherers, always on their feet and on the go. So how much sitting time is acceptable?

Changing behaviour

Our research carried out with office workers shows that sedentary behaviour (sitting) is the most prevalent behaviour seen throughout waking hours, with more than 60% of total daily sitting time occurring at work (Clemes et al. 2015). So what is the solution? Well, it’s all about changing behaviour that has become ingrained in society; one way of doing this is by introducing sit-to-stand workstations in the office. A recent study of ours showed that participants reduced their sitting time at work by 20% (after three months’ use) which is equivalent to a 96 minute reduction in sitting time over a typical 8 hour work day.

BBC Radio 4 presenter Claudia Hammond recently swapped her desk and chair for a standing desk for a period of five weeks and was surprised by the results. All that extra standing led to a reduction in Claudia’s blood glucose levels which put her at a lower risk of developing diabetes. She essentially ran the equivalent of 5km every day, just by standing at her desk for an average of five hours a day. You can hear the full interview here.

Stand more at work

And in a new study – the largest of its kind in the UK – we are looking at the impact of standing desks on the health of NHS office workers at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, Leicester General Hospital and Glenfield Hospital.

The SMArT Work (Stand More AT Work) project has been funded by the Department of Health, and will test the effectiveness of sit-to-stand desks not only in reducing sedentary behaviour at work, but also its impact on absenteeism, job performance, and work engagement over a 12-month period. We’ll also be calculating the cost-effectiveness of the intervention.

This is a randomised controlled trial which will produce the best evidence as it compares sit-to-stand desks against usual everyday practice. We hope to have the results to share with you later this year.

Finally, did you know team sport can provide other benefits in addition to physiological changes such as reduced heart rate, reduced blood pressure, and a reduction in body fat mass? By introducing team sport into the workplace, this small change can lead to increases in work performance and productivity, as well as better motivation and reduced sickness absence. A win-win!

So here’s our top 3 points of what we know so far:

  1. Office workers accumulate high volumes of sitting (10 hours/day on average) on work days, with the greatest amount of sitting occurring in the workplace (more than 60%)
  1. The amount of daily sitting which is acceptable is currently unknown, but sitting for durations of more than 8 hours/day have been linked to poor health outcomes. Whereas, regularly breaking up sitting has been linked to health benefits
  1. Sit-to-stand desks are effective in increasing the number of breaks in sitting, and reducing office workers total daily sitting time, over the short term.

The Active Working Summit on Thursday 28 January is aimed at senior professionals and decision makers responsible for wellbeing, productivity, engagement and office workplace.

Among the speakers will be Dr Stacy Clemes, Senior Lecturer in Human Biology; Dr Hilary McDermott, Senior Lecturer in Psychology; and Dr Fehmidah Munir, Reader in Health Psychology, from the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences (SSEHS) and National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine East Midlands.

To find out more, visit

Dr Stacy Clemes‘ research interests focus on the measurement of sedentary behaviour and physical activity in children and adults. She has expertise in intervention research promoting reductions in sedentary behaviour and increases in physical activity in the workplace and school environment.

Dr Fehmidah Munir‘s current research focuses on the promotion of health and management of ill health and wellbeing in occupational and community settings.  She has expertise in the prevention of, and intervention for, chronic conditions impacting quality of life, work engagement and fitness for work, among others.

Dr Hilary McDermott‘s research interests are in health and wellbeing with a strong emphasis on injury prevention and the interactive processes leading to injury.

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