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Expert Comment: The health benefits of standing at work

sit stand 150x150 Wednesday 17 June 2015

Dr Peter Angell and Dr Becky Dagger from the School of Health Sciences are currently researching what happens when we stand rather than sit at work. Here they discuss the current research in the field and how we can stay active in the office.  

The role of physical activity and exercise in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and reducing the risk of developing a number of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases are well established (Paffenberger et al, 1986).  Whilst it has become clear that many are not meeting the UK government’s guidelines on physical activity, it is also becoming apparent that simply meeting the guidelines may not be sufficient to reduce the level of risk of developing many diseases. Recently, there has been significant interest in the role of sedentary behaviour on health risk. With the increase in the use of technology such as TV and personal computers, and the shift from manual to more sedentary, office based, working environments has dramatically increased the time individuals spend sedentary.

There is a growing body of evidence associating sitting time as an emerging public health concern (Chau et al., 2010). Sitting time has been independently associated with an increased risk of CV disease (Mason et al., 2002), cancer (Gierach et al., 2009), overweight and obesity (Proper et al., 2007) and type 2 diabetes (Hu et al., 2003).  Whilst there is a strong drive to increase moderate to vigorous physical activity levels in the population it is clear that an alteration in work behaviours to reduce sedentary time and physical inactivity is an important task to help reduce the development of cardiometabolic diseases and therefore reduce the burden on the healthcare system.

To combat the increase in occupational sedentary time, changes to working environments and methods are increasingly being employed. A number of recent studies have attempted to reduce time spent sitting in the workplace with one study showing a significant improvement in post-prandial glycaemic control (Buckley et al, 2013). A more recent study has also shown that by employing height-adjustable workstations alongside a multi-faceted intervention including staff-education and face-to-face coaching can dramatically reduce the time an individual spends sitting.

A recent article commissioned by Public Health England (Buckley et al, 2015) has highlighted the importance of reducing sedentary time in the workplace in order to not only improve workers health, but also as a way of improving productivity and reducing absenteeism. As opposed to suggesting people now stand all day in work, the authors suggest that workers aim to accumulate ~2hr/day of standing/light activity during the working day. They then go on to suggest that workers should then aim to progress up to ~4hr/day. Far from suggesting that this standing time occurs in large chunks of time, the authors suggest that periods of sitting be interspersed with standing time and that in fact the regular changing of posture is a vital component in combatting negative health consequences.

Whilst the true scale of the effect of reducing sitting time in the workplace is not yet fully understood, it is undoubtedly clear that both employers and employees need to take a responsibility for reducing sedentary time. So rather than staying seated all day and only moving for a coffee or some lunch, be proactive and take regular breaks by standing every 30-40minutes, go and talk to colleagues instead of sending an email and try standing/walking meetings instead of sitting. 

Dr Peter Angell is Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Sciences - view his full profile

Dr Becky Dagger is Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Science - view her full profile

School of Health Sciences at Liverpool Hope

 

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