Reducing sitting to improve office workers’ health

Researchers at the University of Leicester, Loughborough University, and Leicester’s Hospitals’ National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) have created a programme that, when used with a height-adjustable desk, can reduce the amount of time people spend sitting by over an hour. It is now the largest study ever conducted in the field of interventions to combat sedentary behaviour at work.

The team tested their “SMART Work and Life” programme, which was created for people who spend a lot of their day sitting down, in six local authorities throughout Leicester, Greater Manchester, and Liverpool. The programme includes training for workplace champions, educational resources, ongoing behaviour change support, and a set of apps and software to monitor sitting time.

The 756 desk-based employees were divided into three categories. The SMART Work and Life application was given to the first group alone, but the second group also received a height-adjustable desk so they could stand or sit while using their computers. With neither the SMART Work and Life programme nor the height-adjustable desk, a third group served as the control.

A tiny device worn on the thigh by the participants allowed the research team to observe their sitting habits.

Researchers discovered that participants in the SMART Work and Life programme sat down for 22 minutes less per day than those in the control group.

This increased to nearly an hour additional standing time per working day for those who used both the SMART Work and Life programme and a height-adjustable desk.

It’s interesting to note that although individuals who used the programme and the height-adjustable desk decreased their sitting time at work, this had no effect on their behaviour at home, suggesting that it can be difficult to change a sitting habit when you’re just relaxing.

Sedentary lifestyles are reported to lead to over £700 million in NHS expenses in the UK and were the cause of 69,276 fatalities in 2016. These practises and their negative effects on public health have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has sparked attention in public health interventions that encourage safe physical activity and decrease sedentary behaviour.

Desk-based employees sit for about 70% of the workday, and many of them continue to do so when they get home. According to research, they sit for 9 to 10 hours per day. Workplace sedentary behaviour has an impact on productivity and is linked to higher levels of presenteeism.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Charlotte Edwardson, an associate professor of physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and health at the University of Leicester, states that the findings “suggest that standing desks combined with motivational resources, peer support, and education have the greatest impact on reducing sitting in the workplace.”

These findings represent a significant advancement in the provision of evidence-based solutions for reducing sedentary behaviour and enhancing occupational health.

The study’s co-author and Reader in Public Health Epidemiology at the University of Salford, Dr. Alex Clarke-Cornwell, claims that “Participants noticed slight increases in stress, wellbeing, and work vigour along with the decrease in sitting time. The group that additionally received the desk reported having less musculoskeletal problems, and they also reported feeling more energised, productive, and focused.”

A training package for workplace champions of health and wellbeing is one of the many components of the multi-faceted programme SMART Work and Life. Additionally, it offers educational resources, apps and software to monitor sitting time and send standing reminders, motivational posters, challenges to sit less, advice on how to make tiny environmental changes, and many other beneficial tools that are accessible to everyone who participates.

Workplace advocates who support participants and create individualised plans for each team facilitate it.

The SMART Work and Life programme has been transformed by Dr. Edwardson and her team into an easily accessible online resource bundle for businesses. A wonderful tool to utilise in conjunction with height-adjustable desks, as part of an office environment transformation, or as a standalone toolkit to promote less sitting is SMART Work and Life.

The British Medical Journal published the study.


Charlotte Edwardson et al, Effectiveness of an intervention for reducing sitting time and improving health in office workers: three arm cluster randomised controlled trial, BMJ (2022).

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