Office workers are being urged to ‘stand up for their health’ – with Loughborough and Leicester researchers claiming desk-bound staff need to be more active at work.
It is widely known that sitting down for long periods of time, even for those who do some exercise regularly, can lead to poor health.
Teams from the University of Leicester and Loughborough University wanted to investigate simple solutions to reducing sitting time in the office.
The research, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), found that giving height-adjustable workstations to staff, alongside a brief education seminar, posters and providing feedback on sitting behaviour (i.e., the SMArT Work programme), reduced sitting time and increased standing whilst at work, which resulted in lots of work and wellbeing benefits.
The Stand More AT Work (SMArT Work) study involved 146 office workers from the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS trust who were randomly assigned to one of two groups. One set of people received the SMArT Work programme and the other group was asked to continue as normal.
After 12 months, participants in the intervention group spent 83 minutes less per day sitting down at work than the control group.
Measures of sitting, standing and movement time were recorded using a small device worn on the thigh. Participants also completed questionnaires on their performance at work, job satisfaction, engagement, musculoskeletal issues, fatigue, wellbeing and sickness absence.
Dr Fehmidah Munir, Reader in Health Psychology from Loughborough University and the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine East Midlands, said: “For people who work in an office environment, sitting down for most of the day is very common.
“We know this is bad for their health, but people feel restricted to this posture because of the job and the environment. We have shown that it is possible to significantly reduce the time spent sitting whilst at work with the SMArT Work programme”.
Dr Charlotte Edwardson, Associate Professor from the University of Leicester, said: “Those who received the SMArT Work programme reported improvements in their work performance, work dedication and engagement, quality of life and reduced levels of sickness presenteeism, feelings of fatigue and musculoskeletal issues, such as lower back pain.
“Presenteeism, together with absenteeism, is estimated to cost UK employers more than £30 billion annually. Approximately nine million working days are lost to musculoskeletal problems. So, the SMArT Work programme could help employers make headway into these two issues.”
Dr Sophie O’Connell, Research Associate at Leicester’s Hospitals, said: “In response to the study findings and the fantastic feedback from the participants who received the SMArT Work programme, we are preparing the SMArT Work resources for roll out.
“The resources will be freely available on the programme website very soon for organisations to access. We want other people to be able to benefit from this programme.”
Judy Queally took part in the study. She said: “Before I started the study I suffered from a back problem. Even having been to my GP and being sent for a couple of x-rays, I still couldn’t get to the bottom of it. Since being part of the SMArT Work study I have the flexibility to stand whenever I want and I can honestly say I have no back problems at all.”
Jo Tyler-Fantom, Deputy Head of Workforce Development at Leicester’s Hospitals said: “The findings of the study are certainly very interesting. As a Trust we will be keeping a close eye on future developments to see how we can integrate its suggestions into our Staff Health and Well-being Strategy.”
The SMArT Work study was funded by the NIHR with support from the NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre.