Dr Fehmidah Munir: Breaking up sitting time can improve physical and mental wellbeing

Dr Munir

Sitting for long periods has been found to be harmful. We will sit at our desks at work for a long time and then go home and watch TV. So we are sitting again. Prolonged sitting has been linked to a risk of diabetes, obesity, and a lot of metabolic diseases.

The evidence now suggests that if you are sitting for eight or nine hours and you then do one hour of exercise, it has very little impact. Breaking up bouts of sitting time at work has been found to reduce the risks of diabetes and other conditions.

Regularly breaking up sitting by standing and moving lightly enables the blood and oxygen to flow through the body better, meaning that employees will feel much more energised. Because they feel more energised, employees also feel better psychologically, so their general wellbeing improves. Evidence also suggests that breaking up sitting time has no adverse effects on work performance and, in fact, has been associated with high work engagement; highly engaged workers are likely to move more rather than sit at their desks for long periods.

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Strategies to reduce prolonged sitting often require workplace policy changes to make them effective. For example, employees can break their prolonged periods of sitting behaviour by using a desk that can be raised or lowered. Employers could also use communal printers and waste bins to encourage people get up and walk around. Employees need to be kept motivated to change behaviour and work-related problems often need to be addressed first before trying to shift employees’ personal health behaviours.

Dr Fehmidah Munir is reader in health psychology at the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University