10 Practical Ways to Reduce the Harmful Effects of Sitting in the Workplace

Employees are sitting on a silent, but significant health issue. While back pain and poor posture are common side effects of excessive sitting, the negative health impacts run much deeper. Beyond ergonomic issues, prolonged sitting is linked to a range of health problems, including heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and even early death. Learn how too much sitting is affecting your employees and discover practical ideas for creating a movement-friendly workplace. 

Sitting Statistics

The human body wasn’t designed for prolonged sitting. Yet the average American spends at least six and a half to eight hours seated each day. Considering that 80% of today’s jobs are sedentary or involve minimal physical activity, it’s no surprise that office workers spend 73% of their workday sitting. 

And it doesn’t take much sitting to pose a health risk. Just Stand provides these thresholds to determine the risk of developing problems due to sitting:

  • Low risk: Sitting less than 4 hours per day.
  • Medium risk: Sitting for 4 -8 hours per day.
  • High risk: Sitting for 8-11 hours per day.
  • Very high risk: Sitting for more than 11 hours per day.

Why Sitting Is So Dangerous

How can an activity so common be so harmful? The negative health effects stem from a combination of factors:

  • Prolonged sitting slows metabolism, affecting blood pressure, blood sugar, and the ability to break down body fat. (After just 30 minutes of sitting, metabolism slows down 90% and after two hours, good cholesterol drops 20%.)
  • It makes the body work harder to process sugar and produce insulin, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Blood flow decreases, allowing fatty acids to build up in blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease
  • Continuous sitting without breaks can lead to deep vein thrombosis, potentially causing shortness of breath, chest pain, and even death.
  • People who sit excessively have higher rates of certain cancers and a greater risk of premature death

The Parallels Between Sitting and Smoking   

“Sitting is the new smoking” seemed like an exaggeration when it was first used in 2014 by James A. Levine MD, Ph.D.  However, many experts now agree that the health risks of sitting are comparable to those caused by smoking. Research shows that those who sit for more than eight hours a day with minimal physical activity face a mortality risk similar to smokers and those who are obese.  

Why Standing Matters 

A growing body of research shows that it’s important to break up long periods of sitting by standing up and moving around. This can help reduce the negative effects of excessive sitting. 

Moreover, standing more throughout the workday offers important benefits, including a boost to metabolism, increased calorie burn, and improved blood circulation. In one study comparing sitting and standing workers, those who stood lowered their blood sugar levels an impressive 34% in addition to reducing insulin levels. 

More Standing, More Productivity

Beyond health benefits, standing can enhance cognitive performance, productivity, and creativity. Standing increases blood flow to the brain, delivering oxygen and nutrients to brain cells, making them more capable of performing at their peak.

Standing also helps people think faster as shown in a study where the standing participants had faster mental processing time than those sitting. Notably, standing can also boost work performance and productivity. In one study, call center employees using standing desks were 45% more productive than seated employees.  

Exercise Is Not Enough

 “Unfortunately, exercise alone can’t counteract the harmful effects of sitting,” says Dr. Amy Lee, Chief Medical Officer at PEAR Health Labs. She adds, “Many mistakenly believe that if they exercise, they don’t have to worry about how much time they spend sitting. While it’s important to meet the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week, it’s just as important to figure out ways to sit less every day.”

Creating a Movement-Friendly Workplace

To support employees in standing and moving more throughout the day, companies must make it a part of their culture. Providing standing desks and ergonomic equipment is an excellent starting point. Equally important is creating an environment where employees feel comfortable moving during work hours. Managers play a vital role in encouraging physical activity for sedentary employees, and should lead by example. 

Further, studies show that employees are better able to embrace more movement when employers provide coaching and/or educational support. By helping workers understand why sitting time matters, they may be more likely to embrace standing and short movement breaks. 

10 Ideas to Promote Employee Movement

Here are 10 practical ideas to encourage employees to sit less and move more:

  1. Encourage employees to stand up and move at least once every hour, using their phone or fitness tracker to set reminders.
  2. Offer standing desks; at-home workers can improvise by elevating their laptops on a box or counter. 
  3. Create standing areas within the office, such as high-top conference tables.
  4. Suggest standing during phone calls or non-typing tasks. 
  5. Encourage walking breaks or other physical activity opportunities during the workday. 
  6. Promote walking meetings; encourage people to stand during meetings.
  7. Promote face-to-face interactions with colleagues instead of calls or emails.
  8. Suggest taking a brisk stroll down the hallway while microwaving lunch. 
  9. For commuters, suggest standing on the bus or train. At work, take the stairs instead of the elevator and walk up the escalator.
  10. Allow flexible scheduling to accommodate employees’ exercise routines.

Ultimately, creating a work environment that values and supports movement is a sound business strategy. It can enhance engagement, reduce healthcare costs, and create a healthier, happier, and more productive workplace.

Aaptiv as an Employee Wellness Offering

Aaptiv offers an all-in-one employee wellness solution that includes personalized workout plans, access to a network of 19,000 national and local gyms, and over 9,500+ on-demand fitness and mindfulness classes. With PEAR’s Training Intelligence, Aaptiv’s adaptive coaching helps users stay motivated and engaged with their exercise routine. As users progress through their workouts, it adapts to their performance in real-time, providing feedback and adjustments to ensure they are getting the most out of their workout. This hyper-personalized approach can help employees achieve their fitness goals and improve their overall health and well-being.

Overall, by providing a tool that helps increase regular physical activity, and encourages healthy habits, companies can create a more positive and productive work environment.

Learn More about Aaptiv Employer Options

More Employer Blog Posts

wellness stipend alternative

Is There a Better Alternative to Wellness Stipends?

The wellness stipend is a popular perk in today’s workplace. ...
Read More
remote employee health

The Secret to Improving Remote Employee Health and Addressing Burnout

Remote work is here to stay. Recent data show that ...
Read More
employee chronic disease

Reducing Employees’ Chronic Disease Risk with Physical Activity

It’s been said that laughter is the best medicine. However, ...
Read More
employee well-being

The CEO’s Influence on Employee Well-Being

In recent years, employee well-being has evolved from a buzzword ...
Read More
wellness program

3 Common Wellness Program Mistakes and a Solution that Works for Everyone

Wellness in the workplace is booming, with roughly half of ...
Read More
employee holiday stress

Sleighing Holiday Stress: Top 10 Tips to Help Employees

Navigating workplace stress during the holidays can be a challenge ...
Read More