Your employees are sitting too much — and it could be killing them.

Sure it sounds like an alarmist headline, but it’s completely true. Most of us are already aware of the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle, but new research is highlighting just how unhealthy excessive sitting can be. According to  a study conducted by the Annals of Internal Medicine, “there’s a direct relationship between time spent sitting and your risk of early mortality of any cause.” In other words, the more your employees sit, the more likely they are to die sooner.

Why is sitting so bad for our health?

Our bodies are optimized for movement. Everything about our physiology makes us great at being in motion, whether we’re walking, climbing, reaching, swinging, or lifting. Movement helps tone our muscles, strengthen our bones, maintain good circulatory health and immunity, regulate metabolism, and sharpen our minds. Sitting for extended periods of time each day flies in the face of our biological design, and has been linked to several conditions including cardiovascular disease, dementia, obesity, anxiety, diabetes, deep vein thrombosis, and cancer.

If you think your staff is in the clear if they squeeze in a rigorous workout after leaving the office, think again. The study concluded that excessive sitting increases mortality regardless of how much we exercise. No amount of physical activity can undo the damage of sitting all day. That’s not to say exercising isn’t beneficial, but unfortunately, it didn’t seem to have an effect on the mortality rates discovered in the research.

So how can your staff mitigate the harmful effects of sitting?

The only way to avoid sitting too much is to do just that: sit less. The study found that the group of people with the lowest risk of early mortality were those who sat for less than 30 minutes at a time. That means no matter what kind of work your employees do, they should be encouraged to stop every half hour to get up and move.

Worried they won’t be into it? They almost definitely will be. Last year a German study polled 614 employees who worked desk jobs and found that they preferred to sit approximately 20% less than what their schedule dictated. The employees also wished to walk and perform physically demanding tasks at nearly double the rates their jobs required. Similar sentiments have been expressed around the world, so getting your staff to move around should be relatively easy.

Tips on creating a movement-conscious workplace

Personal trainer, therapist, and LifeSpeak expert Tim Sitt has some advice for employers who want to help their staff get moving:

  • Hold walking meetings. This works great one-on-one or in small groups. It’s a perfect way to get some exercise and fresh air while remaining productive, and it can even boost creativity.
  • Enjoy some deskercise. There are tons of activities your employees can do right at their desks, from stretching and deep breathing to squats and lunges.
  • Have a dance party. It’s not uncommon for people to hit a brick wall right after lunch. We naturally want to nap at this time, so scheduling a short dance party each afternoon is a fun way to lift everyone’s energy levels and get their blood flowing.
  • Invest in ergonomics. A well-designed chair can do wonders for your employees’ backs, but don’t stop there. If it’s feasible, think about how the physical design of your environment affects their ability to work and move. This can include everything from stairwell access to natural lighting. And don’t be fooled by the allure of standing desks. A growing amount of research now indicates that just standing all the time might be as harmful as sitting all the time, so remember to specifically emphasize movement as the best way for your employees to stay healthy.
  • Stay accountable. It’s easy to get lost in our work and not realize we haven’t gotten up until several hours have passed. To prevent this, write reminders, set alarms, or download apps that will keep you and your staff moving throughout the day.

To learn more about staying active on the job, you can read a summary of our Ask the Expert session with Tim. Our employee well-being platform is also packed with over 2,000 resources on this and other crucial topics, including nutrition and mental health. Would you like to find out more? Simply click “Book a Demo” in the menu bar above to request a free walk-through.


Also published on Medium.