People + Process = Performance

Is there evidence supporting workplace interventions for reducing sitting at work?


Stand up!  Walk and talk!  Why sit when you can stand?  The call to reduce sitting at work has steadily increased in recent years.  The push to reduce sitting comes from research that has shown prolong sitting to be correlated with decreased health.  Office furniture manufacturers and organizations themselves have come up with various interventions in the hopes of reducing sitting time.  This is all well and good—anecdotally.  However, is there any evidence to show which interventions actually achieve the goal of reduced sitting?  Unfortunately, there isn’t much research that I could find to prove or disprove interventions.


There was one study I came across that was published online in January that attempted to answer which workplace methods actually resulted in reduced sitting compared to no interventions.  The study was an analysis of studies that focused on reducing time spent sitting at work.  (Please click on the link for information on the criteria of inclusion).  Below is what the study concluded for the effects of the following interventions:


Sit-stand desks:  “A sit-stand desk with or without information and counselling reduced sitting time with 113 minutes per workday, but the quality of the evidence is very low due to the small number of participants and a low quality research design.”


Walking during breaks:  “The introduction of walking during breaks in one study did not lead to a considerable decrease in sitting time.”


Computer software:  “Computer prompting software did not show a reduction of sitting time in one study while in another study it reduced sitting time with 55 minutes.”


Information and counselling:  “In one study counselling by an occupational physician compared to those who received 'usual care' decreased sitting time with 28 minutes and in another study mindfulness training did not have any effect on sitting at work.”


The authors’ concluded “At present there is very low quality evidence that sit-stand desks can reduce sitting time at work, but the effects of policy changes and information and counselling are inconsistent. There is a need for high quality cluster-randomised trials to assess the effects of different types of interventions on objectively measured sitting time. There are many ongoing trials that might change these conclusions in the near future.”


In other words, there are no good, quality studies to date that support specific workplace interventions to reduce sitting time.  The problems with studies to date are poor study design, low subject participation numbers, research bias and low quality evidence.  The best advice to date is to provide employees with opportunities to reduce their sitting time (i.e. sit-stand desks, standing meetings, walking meetings, etc.) while increasing their knowledge and awareness of the health effects of prolong sitting.  The goal of reduced sitting time will hopefully be met by providing the means to reduce sitting time along with providing the awareness of the problems with prolonged sitting and instilling the desire to sit less.  Until research proves otherwise, that’s the best advice I can offer to date.