Is sitting the new smoking : Workplace interventions for reducing sitting time at work

Physical inactivity at work has increased in recent years throughout the world. With the advancement in technology (computers, mobiles) and increased peer pressure at work people do not leave their desk even for communicating with their colleagues. Sitting at work increases the risk of being overweight, heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The article is a guest post by the lead author of the Cochrane Review Workplace interventions for reducing sitting at work, Nipun Shrestha published last week.

The interventions that can be aimed to decrease sitting at workplaces could be framed as below :
Physical changes in workplace environment
• Changes in the layout of the workplace such as printers or bins situated further away from desks.
• Changes in desks enabling more activity, such as the use of a sit-stand desk, a vertical workstation on a treadmill or a stepping device.
• Changes in chairs enabling more activity, such as inflated balloon chairs or therapy balls.
A policy to change the organisation of work
• Supporting the social environment by the introduction of walking meetings, walking or other exercise groups during work time.
• Breaks (periodic, frequent, or purposive) to sit less, stand up and take an exercise break.
• Sitting diaries.
Information and counselling to encourage workers to sit less
• Signs or prompts at the workplace (e.g. posters) or at the workstation (computer).
• E-health intervention.
• Distribution of leaflets.
• Counselling (face to face, email, or telephone).
When we think of an average office, reducing sitting is a huge challenge. One has to think of changing architecture, spending a lot of money as well as changing the office routine. So it is important to find out that whether these interventions that aim to reduce sitting, such as desks at which you can work while standing up does actually reduce sitting or not.
We tried to find out whether interventions aimed at reducing the time people spend sitting while at work are effective.


 “Sitting is the new smoking”  – comment from the audience at @ Cochrane OSH workshop on essential intervention in LMIC’s in Hyderabad,India .

What trials did we find?
We found eight trials, with a total 1125 participants, that provided results that could be used for analysis.
Three trials investigated the introduction of sit-stand desks to the workplace to reduce time spent sitting at work. People can work while standing or sitting at these desks, two trials assessed the effectiveness of computer prompts to reduce sitting at work. The remaining trials assessed the effectiveness of policy changes to introduce walking strategies (for example, walking during breaks), information and counselling to sit less, and mindfulness training to reduce sitting at work. The mindfulness training consisted of homework exercises and information through emails.
We found that when a sit-stand desk was combined with information and counselling, it reduced sitting time by nearly 2 hours per 8-hour workday, but the quality of the evidence was very low due to a small number of participants and a research design that was of low quality.
We did not find considerable decrease in sitting with walking during breaks or information and counseling.

We concluded that at present there is very low quality evidence that sit-stand desks can reduce sitting at work, but that the evidence for policy measures (such as walking breaks), or information and counselling is inconsistent. There is a need for high quality research to assess the effectiveness of different types of interventions. There are many trials being conducted at present, the results of which might change the conclusions of this research in the near future.


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