Study explores employee perceptions of prolonged sitting risks in workplace

It is estimated that employees spend more than half their day sitting down. A recent study has found that this could lead to serious health problems such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Leeds Beckett University has looked into whether people are aware of the risks.

The study, which was led by Dr Stuart Flint in the Carnegie School of Sport, looked at employees' sitting behavior in the workplace and spoke to groups of employees about how they felt their sitting for long periods at work might affect their health.

The responses from the focus groups showed that more needs to be done by employers:

"It's not an obvious health issue is it? Sitting still isn't obvious and it probably doesn't register in most people's minds that it can be negative because your mind is busy and you don't recognize that your body isn't."

"It's not perceived to be good to be seen walking around unless you've got a piece of A4 paper in your hand."

"Allow people to experiment to find their optimal balance of work, activity and productivity."

"Raising awareness could help and maybe make people think a bit more about doing something at lunch time or getting up every hour to have a little walk about as long as that was supported by senior management."

This is the first UK examination of employee perceptions of prolonged sitting in the workplace. The results showed that all participants perceived that prolonged sitting time was associated with poorer health and well-being at work but, when asked what problems it caused, came up with examples including back and neck pain, dry eyes, poor posture, weight gain, fatigue and reduced concentration.

In fact, a recent study concluded that increased sedentary time is associated with a greater risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cardiovascular mortality and all-cause mortality.

Dr Stuart Flint said: "One of the issues we found whilst carrying out our research is that, in a business-driven workplace, the feasibility of reducing employee sitting time yet maintaining work productivity is a key challenge. Participants reported that light-intensity activities such as walking to meeting rooms, taking standard breaks from sitting, stand-up meetings and walking at lunchtimes were more realistic and preferable than trying to engage in moderate to vigorous activity in the workplace.

"Personal determinants, the workplace environment and organisational culture are key to reducing employees' sitting time. Future workplace interventions should consider the corporate and organizational culture as it is this which impacts greatly on employee's willingness to adopt healthier behaviors at work."

Dr Stuart Flint is a psychologist with a specific interest in psychosocial effects of obesity; in particular obesity stigmatization and discrimination, conscious and unconscious attitudes, body image, attitude and behavior change and factors that influence exercise participation.

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