Stand up for Your Health at Work

Standing and regular walking breaks at work advised to help prevent chronic illness tied to sedentary lifestyle

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Eyeing that sit-stand desk at work? It may help curb the health risks of sitting all day.

United Kingdom health officials recently released guidance advising office workers to be on their feet for at least two hours every day during work hours.

Eventually, this daily standing quota should be bumped up to four hours every day, said the researchers behind this new guidance. They also advised walking around the office regularly.

John P. Buckley, PhD, of the Institute of Medicine at the University Centre Shrewsbury and University of Chester in the UK, wrote the guidance with an international group of experts.

Dr. Buckley and team wrote that there was not enough “guidance relating to affecting a number of factors that may best help realise the promoted health benefits … of standing and active breaks required at work within the office environment.”

This new guidance noted that more research is suggesting that staying seated for long periods of time may greatly increase the risk of serious illnesses.

"The UK health officials have responded with impressive agility to news appearing over the last year regarding the hazards of prolonged sitting," said Deborah Gordon, MD, a nutrition expert based in Ashland, OR, in an interview with dailyRx News. "Sitting all day has been found to be associated with a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and death, and those risks are only slightly reduced if the all-day sitter is also a dawn or evening athlete. Working out hard for part of a day or on the weekend will not protect us from the hazards of long days spent sitting."

Dr. Buckley and team noted that, "For those working in offices, 65-75% of their working hours are spent sitting, of which more than 50% of this is accumulated in prolonged periods of sustained sitting."

These researchers also noted that sedentary behavior may account for 70 percent of those at high risk of having or developing a chronic health condition.

"The evidence is clearly emerging that a first 'behavioural' step could be simply to get people standing and moving more frequently as part of their working day," Dr. Buckley and team added, saying that this was more likely to be achieved than targeted exercise.

These researchers didn't stop at standing, however. They said that standing still for long periods of time could be just as unhealthy as sitting down. That's why Dr. Buckley and team emphasized that workers should take regular walking breaks to break up extended periods of both standing and sitting. Among these researchers' other recommendations were efforts to improve employee posture while sitting to avoid back pain and other musculoskeletal problems and encouraging workers to adopt other healthy behaviors, such as not smoking, eating healthily, limiting alcohol and lowering stress.

Workers who move from sitting all day to standing may feel some discomfort and tiredness at first, Dr. Buckley and team said. These researchers recommended taking breaks and short walks to reduce any discomfort tied to standing more frequently at work. If the problems persist, patients should speak to a doctor.

Dr. Gordon offered some strategies to help patients reduce their sedentary time.

"I recommend that people get creative if their work requires them to remain in one position throughout the day," Dr. Gordon said. "Look at your own sitting posture: left leg crossed over right? Reverse that when you're sitting. If you can stand to work ... vary that posture: shift your weight from one leg to the other. Spend more time on the leg that feels 'weaker' to you. And most important of all: identify the strategy you need to get yourself up and walking for just one or two minutes every hour. Lots of water and frequent bathroom breaks? Less efficiency on errands so you need to head to the copy machine more often?"

Dr. Buckley and team noted that most of the evidence they drew on for their recommendations was based on observational and retrospective studies.

"While longer term intervention studies are required, the level of consistent evidence accumulated to date, and the public health context of rising chronic diseases, suggest initial guidelines are justified," Dr. Buckley and team wrote.

This study was published June 1 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Dr. Buckley and team disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
May 30, 2015
Last Updated:
June 3, 2015