People + Process = Performance

Study showed reduced sitting time at work achieved through participatory interventions

A new study showed three different participatory intervention strategies to reduce the amount of time people spend sitting at work appeared to be effective. However, the total amount of reduction averaged 1-2% of the work day (~ 8 minutes/day).

Background information of prolonged sitting

Recently, a great amount of attention has been given to the dangers of too much sitting, especially for people stuck in office desk job every day.  Research has linked excessive sitting to high blood pressure, obesity and heart disease. Exercising outside work hours doesn’t appear to fully offset those risks.  The general recommendation to date is that employees with sedentary jobs should be mindful of the total amount of time spent sitting and to get up and move every 30 minutes.

The Study

The randomized controlled study tested three different approaches for getting office employees up and moving. The three “anti-sitting” approaches were classified as:

  • “Active workstations”—where participants had access to treadmill or cycling desks and were recommended to use for 10-30 minutes/day
    • Also included walk and talk meetings, active emails (getting up an talking to person instead of sending an email) and purposely taking longer routes to printer, restroom, etc.
  • “Traditional exercise”—where participants were recommended to perform light to moderate physical activity on breaks and going to and from work
    • Also included walk and talk meetings, encouragement to take short frequent walks during breaks and lunch
  • “Ergonomic Workstations”—where participants were recommended to  frequently alter their position and move during the day
    • Also included standing meetings, use of air cushions on chair (to increase movement) and use of “piano stool” to reinforce active sitting

The participatory part of the study was achieved by having employees in the three groups meet several times over 12 weeks to discuss putting the strategies in place and using them.

Before and after the study each employee was given a device to wear that measured sedentary and active times.

Each strategy results in about 8 fewer minutes sitting per day – a reduction in sedentary time of 1-2%. None of the 3 strategies (active office, traditional and office ergonomics) was clearly more effective at improving occupational sedentary behavior. Of the 3 organizations participating in the study, the one that had the greatest scheduling flexibility experienced the greatest reduction in sitting time with all 3 strategies.  The other 2 organizations (call center and data processing work) had rigid schedules and their employees showed the smallest reductions in sitting time.  In these organizations, productivity and compliance measures were monitored regularly and employees had the least amount of work flexibility and control to vary their work tasks or even when to take coffee and meal breaks. Therefore, in these types of organizations changes must occur in the workstation or work schedule in order to allow for reduce sitting time.

The reduction of 1-2% may not sound like a reduction that has great benefit but by increasing employee awareness of the dangers of sitting and having them actively participate in moving more throughout the day may be the start of or contributing factor into a healthier lifestyle.  Simple changes at work such as standing while on the phone, walking/standing meetings and taking a longer route to the restroom, may just the right amount of movement to improve employees health and well-being.


Participatory Workplace Interventions Can Reduce Sedentary Time for Office Workers—A Randomized Controlled Trial by Sharon Parry, Leon Straker, Nicholas D. Gilson and Anne J. Smith.