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An expert group led by a Shrewsbury Professor is advising office staff to stand for at least two hours during working hours as part of the first ever UK guidance to curb the health risks of sitting for long periods.

Prof John Buckley is among an international group of eight experts who have put forward the advice.

The experts were asked by Public Health England and a UK Community Interest Company (Active Working CIC) to provide the guidelines for employers, to avoid workers sitting for too long.

The guidance to help improve the health and wellbeing of office workers is outlined in an article published by the internationally-renowned British Journal of Sports Medicine yesterday (Monday June 1, 2015).

The article, called ‘The sedentary office: a growing case for change towards better health and productivity’, which evaluates and distils the available evidence, is the first research paper from a University Centre academic to be published.

Prof Buckley has been contributing to the development of the University Centre Shrewsbury curriculum, is leading research in Sports Medicine, Health and Exercise Science, and will lecture at the institution from September. He will be based in the Institute of Medicine, which delivers programmes working closely with clinical colleagues.

In the paper, Prof Buckley and his colleagues advise that workers who are mainly desk-based should aim, initially, towards standing or undertaking light activity (light walking) for a total of two hours a day during working hours, progressing to four hours a day.

They recommend that to achieve this, working while seated should be regularly broken up with standing-based work, the use of sit-stand desks, or frequent short active standing breaks.

Along with other health promotion goals (improved nutrition, reducing alcohol, smoking and stress), they advise that employers should also raise awareness among their staff that prolonged sitting, from work and in leisure time, may significantly and independently increase the risk of cardio-metabolic diseases (diabetes, heart disease and stroke) and premature death.

The article outlines that, in addition to the health advantages, switching chairs for standing is starting to show evidence of improving work productivity, resulting in benefits including savings, and reduced sickness and absenteeism.

Prof Buckley said: “During the past five decades, there has been a decline in the amount of time people spend walking, cycling and in manual occupations. Over the same time there has been an increase in careers involving seated technical work or desk-based office work, and additionally more leisure pursuits that involve sitting, such as watching television and using the computer.

“These hours spent every day at work, locked to our desks, in front of computer screens, can increase the risk of developing diabetes, of a heart attack and death from cardiovascular issues. The negative effects of sitting down, however, can be countered by the simple act of standing up.

“For these reasons, it is important that we highlight the dangers of long sessions of sitting, and support employers and staff who have invested or plan to invest in creating more active working environments.”

The paper further recommends that, in addition to changing the office environment, strategies and programmes for change need careful organisational and behavioural support and public education. 

The experts also propose that more work is undertaken to fully assess the impact of creating ‘movement-friendly’ spaces, including alarmed or vibrating personal motion assessment devices, and placement of toilets and kitchens.

Prof Buckley is currently leading the longest experiment of its kind, at Virgin Media offices in Sheffield, into the benefits of standing at work. 

Prior to the creation of these guidelines, Prof Buckley’s research has found that switching from chairs to working standing up could help as an easy way to burn extra calories and improve circulation and blood sugar control. His findings have highlighted that standing for an extra three hours a day burns 144 calories, more than 30,000 calories or 8lbs (3.6kg) of fat each year.

To read the Journal article click here.

ENDS

Note to editors

The experts point out that:

  • In the UK, sedentary behaviour (sitting) now accounts for 60 per cent of people’s waking hours, increasing to 70 per cent for those with a high risk of a long term condition.
  • The consequences for unhealthy ageing and poorer bone health in later life are increased with ageing workforces.
  • Prolonged static standing should be avoided and may be as harmful as long periods sitting.
  • Other countries are promoting movement in the workplace, with an estimate that 90 per cent of office workers in some Scandinavian countries now have access to sit-stand workstations, while in the UK, this figure is only one per cent.

For further information on Prof John Buckley go to: www.ucshrewsbury.ac.uk/news/renowned-shropshire-based-professor-join-university-centre-shrewsbury-academic-team

For more details on the ‘sit-stand’ experiment at the Virgin Media offices go to: www.ucshrewsbury.ac.uk/news/professor-stands-health-groundbreaking-workplace-experiment

More information about University Centre Shrewsbury is available at www.ucshrewsbury.ac.uk

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