People + Process = Performance

Short Bouts of Exercise Key to Counteract Negative Effects of Sitting


Just about every office ergonomics consultation I provide these days involves addressing the companies’ concerns about prolonged sitting and the health and wellness of their employees.  One HR manager of a call center told me how she and her CEO have noticed their employees tend to gain weight the longer they are employed.  They were concerned about their employees’ health and were looking for ideas and advice on simple and effective things they can implement to counteract the negative effects of sitting the entire work shift. 


I’ve discussed in other blogs and articles the negative effects of sitting and the trend to install some type of active workstations (treadmill desks, ball chairs, sit-stand desks, etc.) as a means of addressing this problem.  It seems that at least each week a new study is published that addresses the importance and benefits of movement for sedentary workers.  I came across two articles this week that show mild and short bouts of physical activity during the work shift can counteract the negative effects of prolonged sitting.


The first article, Stints of Standing While Working May Reduce Back Pain, cited an Australian study that looked at office workers who alternated between sitting and standing every 30 minutes.  After one week, the participants felt less fatigue and had less back and lower leg pain than when they stayed seated all day.  The article quotes the leading researcher, Alica Thorp, as saying “Our results confirm what we expected - that introducing regular breaks across the workday leads to improvements in fatigue and musculoskeletal symptoms compared to sitting all day”.  The participants fatigue score averaged 52.7 when alternating between sitting and standing versus 67.8 when sitting all day (a score of 66 or > was considered an elevated level of fatigue).  They also had 32% less musculoskeletal symptoms in their lower back and 14% less in their ankles and feet compared to the sitting all day group. The study didn’t show statistically significant improvement in work productivity, although it did show that intermitting sitting/standing did not adversely affect productivity.  A logical assumption would be that since fatigue levels decreased that productivity improvement would be seen over time.


The second article, Short Walks Can Offset Long Stretches of Sitting, cited a study that showed taking really short but frequent walks can negate the effects of prolonged sitting.  The study discussed how after just one hour of sitting the endothelial function of the lower extremity arteries become impaired.  This impairment can cause blood to pool in the legs.  In this study the researchers examined the effects of sitting 3 hours on the function of the femoral artery (the largest artery in the legs).  There conducted two trials—one in which the participants sat the entire 3 hours and second in which the participants walked on a treadmill for 5 minutes at 2mph at 30 minutes, 1.5 hours and 2.5 hours of the 3 hour time period.  They found the ability of the arteries in the legs to expand was reduced by as much as 50% after just 1 hour of sitting.  The participants who walked for 5 minutes each hour they spent sitting had zero reduction in the function of their arteries during the 3 hour period.  The researchers concluded the increase in muscle activity and blood flow from the small amount of exercise offset the negative effects of sitting.

Journal Refernce:  Saurabh S. Thosar, Sylvanna L. Bielko, Kieren J. Mather, Jeanne D. Johnston, Janet P. Wallace. Effect of Prolonged Sitting and Breaks in Sitting Time on Endothelial Function. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2014; 1 DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000000479


The importance of adding movement into the traditionally sedentary workday is showing itself to be as the key to improving the health and wellness of sedentary workers.  The challenge for employers to incorporate movement into the natural work flow so it enhances or at the very least maintains current productivity levels.  Contact us for practical and effective solutions to make this happen in your work place.