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Sitting at our desk is as bad as smoking

Walking Lunch May 2016 - Join the Footsie 250

  • New survey reveals half of us don’t get up from our desks at all during a working day
  • Financial Services workers are the worst culprits - more than three quarters only get up for less than an hour a day
  • 62% of us ‘too busy to take a lunch break’
  • TV Presenter Carol Vorderman backs nationwide campaign to encourage workers to get walking in their lunch breaks

Carol leading a conga train

New research has revealed that over half of British workers (51%) do not get up from their desk at all during a working day, apart from going to the toilet. Worryingly, 60% of British workers spend most of their day sitting down and over half of us don’t even stretch our legs at lunchtime.

The findings follow a survey carried out by leading provider of corporate health and wellbeing cover, Westfield Health, who questioned 2000 employees throughout the UK on how much exercise they get during an average working day. The survey was carried out ahead of the launch of Westfield Health’s new health and wellbeing initiative, Walking Lunch, aimed at getting workers walking more during the working day.

It found that 55% of us walk for less than 20 minutes per day, with the worst culprits being those who work in Financial Services - 76% of whom admit to only getting up from their desk for less than one hour a day.

Wherever you work, a common theme is that we are sitting down for too long each day and our sedentary culture is taking a major toll on our health. There is a great deal of evidence that prolonged sitting increases the risk of obesity but also causes several serious illnesses like cancer, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It seems it really could be true; “Sitting is the new Smoking”.

And it seems that the humble lunch break, often the only real break in the day many of us get, is itself going extinct. While 84% of us think it is important to take a proper lunch break, 62% of employees are too busy to take a lunch break and 55% go ‘Al Desko’ not moving a muscle and eating lunch at their desk. 16% of us don’t eat lunch at all.

The survey also revealed that 64% of Brits are concerned about the health implications of a sedentary lifestyle, 40% say that they feel less stressed after walking in the fresh air for part of the day. 26% of UK workers say that they suffer from stiff joints and back ache having not been for a walk during their working day. 25% of Brits say they feel guilty for not having been active during the day.

To coincide with the research, Westfield Health has launched a new campaign to champion health and wellbeing in the workplace. The ‘Walking Lunch’ initiative encourages employees to be active in their lunch break and try to walk for 20 minutes each day during Living Streets National Walking month in May.

Over 250 companies have signed up to the campaign, and each workplace has received free pedometers and will now compete in the ‘Footsie250’ to see which team can walk the furthest during May. There’s a FitBit prize for the individual who walks the most steps during May as well as a £1000 prize for the winning team to go towards health and well-being products for the office.

Fiona Lowe, Head of HR Development & Strategy from Westfield Health continues: “Our survey revealed that the typical working day is pretty sedentary. There is a great deal of evidence that prolonged sitting increases the risk of obesity but can also cause serious illnesses such as heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes. As well as the physical benefits, there are less-tangible rewards. Many people notice their mood improves and enjoy a general sense of well-being. That’s why we are launching this campaign, as a 20 minute walk each day, really can make a huge difference.”

Professor Robert Copeland, PhD., C.Psychol National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine & The Centre for Sport and Exercise Science, Sheffield Hallam University said: “The world we now live in makes it really easy for us to be inactive, and as a result we are seeing high rates of ill health and poor quality of life. We need to move more. One great way to achieve this is by breaking up the day with short ‘active’ breaks and a 20 minute walk is a great example. Getting away from the office can refresh our focus, help gain perspective, be sociable and improve our mental and physical health. It's also a great way to generate ideas and solve problems.”

Popular TV personality and avid walker, Carol Vorderman is ambassador for the campaign. Carol, who tries to walk every day around her home city of Bristol to keep fit and stay in shape, said she is thrilled to be ambassador for the campaign: “I absolutely love walking, it’s my favourite form of exercise. The great thing about walking is you can do it anytime, anywhere, it’s free, you get fresh air, and you don’t need to remember your gym kit. Having a ‘Walking Lunch’ is a great idea as we can all find time for a 20 minute stroll at some point in our day. Walking is fantastic, it’s a lovely pace, you can have a look around and chat with friends while you exercise. I love to walk with a bit of Dolly Parton on as my soundtrack.”

Communications Assistant, Becky Davy, 24 from Montpellier in Bristol said: “Taking 20 minutes on your lunch break to go on a quick walk is so vital for your mental wellbeing and physical well-being and can really help ease that feeling of stress you may feel during your working day.”

Click here to view our infographic showcasing our research results.

For more information, visit or follow us on Twitter – @westfieldhealth


About Professor Rob Copeland, Sheffield Hallam University

Professor of Physical Activity and Health - PhD, C.Psychol, MMedSci, PgDip, BSc (Hons)

Professor Robert Copeland's major research interests focus on designing physical activity and behaviour change interventions in public health.

Professor Robert Copeland is a Chartered Psychologist (BPS), accredited Sport and Exercise Scientist (BASES) and Professor of physical activity and health at The Centre for Sport & Exercise Science (CSES), Sheffield Hallam University. Rob is also project manager for the London 2012 Olympic Games legacy programme - 'The National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine' in Sheffield.

Rob's specific area of expertise is sport and exercise psychology and he has over 15 years' experience of research, teaching and consultancy in the field. Rob completed a BSc in Sport Science at University of Teesside, a MMedSci in Sport and Exercise Science at University of Sheffield, and a PgDip in Psychology and a PhD at Sheffield Hallam University. Rob's PhD focused on exercise as a psychological therapy for obesity in childhood, during which he delivered over a thousand sessions of exercise counselling with overweight and obese adolescents. Rob joined CSES in 2002 and currently leads the physical activity and health research and consultancy team.

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