A big part of our calling as wellness professionals is to support employees in engineering a better quality of life — and living longer. Sitting less has the potential to do both — and your wellness program can equip workers to make this simple-yet-complex behavior change.
It’s Not About Exercising More
“Sitting is the new smoking.” We’ve all heard the sound bite. But spending more time working up a sweat isn’t the answer. Exercise and sitting less are distinct behaviors with different health outcomes; likewise, not exercising and sitting more present distinct sets of risks. While a 30-minute daily walk or run offers terrific mental and physical benefits, exercise doesn’t cancel out the risks of sitting too much.
For optimal well-being, we all need to do both — exercise regularly and sit less. It’s a growing area of concern for employers and employees in high-tech, transportation, and other industries where extended sitting is the norm.
The Scoop on Sitting Less
Thinking of launching a sit-less initiative? There’s been a flurry of recent research around the health benefits, along with interventions that work. To bolster your case for cultivating a sit-less
workplace culture, check out these studies:
- Workout length doesn’t matter. People mistakenly believe they sit less on days they work out or work out longer. Researchers compared total sedentary time on days subjects did and did not exercise, and found no significant difference — regardless of whether the workout was short or long.
- More energy, happier backs. Office workers engaging in 30-minute sit-stand intervals maintained productivity levels while experiencing far less fatigue and lower-back discomfort compared to those who sat all day.
- Sit, stand, repeat. A study of sedentary overweight and obese office workers found a reduced post-meal blood sugar response in those alternating 30-minute segments of standing and sitting across several 8-hour workdays. Another study in healthy-weight adults found a similar blood sugar benefit from 2-minute walk breaks every 20 minutes; 2-minute standing breaks had no effect.
- Metabolic magic. In a study of healthy, physically active people, those with the most daily muscle activity had significantly lower triglyceride levels and higher HDL cholesterol compared with the least active.
- Sit less, live longer? People who sit less have longer telomeres... and longer is better for these intriguing DNA sequences linked with aging and disease. In people over 60, those with longer telomeres are 3 times less likely to die from heart disease and 8 times less likely to die from infectious disease. One study associates reduced daily sitting time — but not more exercise or steps — with significantly longer telomeres in older adults counseled on physical activity.
Any way you look at it — from a health promotion, disease prevention, productivity, longevity, or quality of life perspective — your workforce stands to benefit from spending less time on their behinds.
Practical Ways to Promote Less Sitting
Health Enhancement Systems Energy Program Sparks Less Sitting, More Fun
Last spring, the Health Enhancement Systems team launched an interoffice program to boost energy; 8 months later, it’s still getting many employees out of their chairs — with a smile.
The program includes:
- 15-minute daily walk with coworkers before 11 AM. “We walk in groups of 2 or 3; it’s become a big part of our work day, and we love walking together,” says Caroline Repollet, office manager. “It’s fun — and it gets me energized for the rest of the day!” “Walking in the morning gives me a healthy mindset all day,” notes Kristen Fernandes, lead account manager. “It puts me in go-getter mode, and I’m more conscious of what I’m eating. As a new mom, it’s easier for me to exercise at work vs. home.”
- 20-second activity bursts every 30-60 minutes. Workgroups responded differently to this challenge, but the front-office team still does squats or other moves together 2-3 times a day. “Sometimes it’s even a dance party, with music,” notes Caroline.
Fun, fitness, camaraderie… and less sitting. It’s a simple approach that adds up to better health and a more productive day for the Health Enhancement Systems team.
Many people are already interested in making a change. Think of it — they sit on the bus or in the car on the way to and from work, sit all day at work, sit for meals, after-school events, and at home. They know they’re sitting too much. What can you offer them?
Treadmill workstations are all the rage, but they’re not for everyone — or every work environment. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on equipment to help workers get off their seats. Start with these ideas:
- Timer tactics. Remembering to get up is half the battle. Phone, computer, or tablet-based timers make activity breaks part of the daily routine. Install an app system-wide, or encourage employees to use their own devices. Example: A 6-8 hour timer that sounds every 30 minutes for a 20-second activity break. Workers can get up and march or jog in place, do lunges or jumping jacks.
- Hot seat. Challenge workers to get up and move at every practical opportunity — during calls and webinars, between tasks, in meetings and training sessions, and more.
- Social sync. Suggest small workgroups pick a few moves to do together throughout the day. They could rotate through “abs day,” “glutes day,” or “upper-body day” for fun. The ACE Exercise Library and Activity Bursts Everywhere are excellent resources.
- Tally-ho. Have workers form teams of 3-5 and keep a simple tally of 20-second to 2-minute activity intervals, with a goal of 1-2 an hour on average. Set a daily minimum and maximum, with teams who meet the goal for the week going into a prize drawing.
- Like clockwork. Issue a challenge for everyone to stand up and move for 20 seconds-2 minutes on the hour, every hour — even in meetings.
- Get up, get down. More employers are offering sit-to-stand adjustable workstations; if yours is one of them, help get the word out.
- Success stories. Invite workers to submit a short anecdote describing their own sit-less efforts and any positive changes they’ve noticed as a result. Then share these stories widely — in your internal wellness page or blog, by email, or on a bulletin board in a high-traffic area.
There’s no denying the health benefits of sitting less — or the dire consequences of continuing to sit as much as we are. This year, put at least as much effort into these messages and programming as you do for tobacco cessation, fitness, nutrition, stress, and preventive care; you could also integrate them into existing wellness campaigns. Spark the interest of leaders and front-line workers organization-wide by showing how little time — and money — it takes to make a world of difference.