Employees talking part in a walking meeting

Being active at work: overcoming a sedentary lifestyle

What is a sedentary lifestyle?

Sedentary behaviour is defined by taking part in little to no physical activity. A sedentary lifestyle consists of excessive periods of sitting or lying down whilst engaging in activity such as reading, watching television or using a mobile phone or computer for most of the day.

British people sit for an average of 8.9 hours each day. Office workers are spending the majority of these hours sat at their desks, and research indicates that this poses a real health risk, irrespective of how active people are outside of work.

What are the risks of sedentary behaviour?

Being largely inactive is detrimental to health because sitting for long periods of time can lead to a number of illnesses. We need to remember to move at regular intervals in order to combat the negative effects that sedentary behaviour can have on the body, which include:

  • Burning fewer calories which makes us more likely to gain weight
  • Changes to metabolism, where our bodies may struggle to break down sugars and fats
  • A lowered immune system making us more susceptible to illness
  • Weakening of bones which may lead to osteoporosis
  • Loss of muscle strength and flexibility due to not regularly using our muscles

Other potential health risks include:

  • Changes in mood, such as depression and anxiety
  • Increased risk of certain cancers
  • Spikes in blood sugar potentially leading to diabetes
  • Musculoskeletal issues such as lower back problems
  • Heart diseases including coronary artery disease and heart attack

What are the effects of sitting too long in the workplace?

Desk based office jobs contribute heavily towards a sedentary lifestyle. People sit at their desks for hours, then sit in their car, sit down for dinner and finally unwind on the sofa.

Sitting at a desk for long periods of time, alongside environmental factors such as artificial light, and workplace stressors such as meeting deadlines can have a series of negative effects on employee physical and mental wellbeing.

Employees may also struggle to find time to exercise on a daily basis due to either lack of time or feeling overworked. This lack of activity has been found to have an adverse effect on productivity, which can add to existing stress creating a vicious cycle of negative effects.

These negative effects on physical and mental health can lead to other issues such as presenteeism and absenteeism, which can result in rising costs to businesses in the longer term. This means it’s important that employers are actively seeking ways to improve employee health and wellbeing, which includes addressing the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

How can we overcome a sedentary lifestyle?

Whilst scheduling in exercise outside of work to combat sedentary behaviour has great health benefits, employees still need to remember be active at work. Studies have shown that the negative effects of a sedentary work day can’t be undone by exercising afterwards, it needs to be a cumulative effect from moving more during the day.

Employers need to educate their employees about the effects of sitting for long periods, and provide them with resources to help them be more active. A ‘movement mindset’ needs to become part of the workplace culture, with those at the top setting an example for all employees.

A movement mindset isn’t about exercising – it’s about acknowledging that smaller, more frequent bouts of activity are beneficial to our health and taking steps towards moving more. In return, this seemingly small change can have huge health benefits.

In the infographic below, we summarise by outlining some of the risks associated with sedentary behaviour and provide some simple tips to encourage employees to be more active at work:

Being Active at Work Infographic

Workplace health and wellbeing programmes to address employee health

Reducing sedentary behaviour is just one part of a successful workplace health and wellbeing strategy. Our free Health & Wellbeing Toolkit contains all the information you need to start creating your company's strategy, featuring help and advice on everything from building the business case and exploring supplier options, to implementing and evaluating the process.

Find out more on how we can help your business and employees’ health and wellbeing.

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