The Sedentary Worker

Dec 5 2015

It’s important to acknowledge that this blog isn’t just directed at the typical 9 til 5 office worker in the busy city. Any job or activity, whether you are a student, an author or even serving your jury service, you should be aware of your environment and most importantly the impact it is having upon your health.

The sedentary lifestyle is becoming more and more prevalent, perhaps because of the increase of technology and ease of completing tasks from the comfort of our computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone. Or because we are just generally a lot busier in this day and age and have less time to be active, let’s be honest, who really only works 8 hours per day, 5 days per week?

The question is simple, do you spend too much time sitting in your day to day routine? Can we kick the habit without reducing the quality of your work? Most importantly. Are you willing to even try? Our Physiotherapist Jenny Wilson looks into this.

The Facts and Figures:

Studies have linked excessive sitting with being having an increased BMI, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, some types of cancer and even premature death. Prolonged sitting is thought to slow the metabolism, which affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat.

Many adults spend more than seven hours a day sitting, and this typically increases with age.
A survey of 2,000 sedentary workers suggested:

  • They spend 85% of their working day sitting down.
  • 45% of women and 37% of men spend less than 30 minutes a day up on their feet at work
  • More than 50% regularly eat their lunch at their desk
  • 78% of office workers felt they spent too much time sitting down
  • Nearly two-thirds were worried sitting at work was having a negative impact on their health

Even if you combat your sedentary lifestyle with smashing the gym of an evening or going for a long run after work; unfortunately, this does not offset the harm of having sat all day. All-day movement is now recognised as being just as important for the maintenance of good health as traditional exercise. When standing, your heartbeat speeds up by 10 beats a minute which in turn means you are burning more calories over the hour. Standing up causes activation of key postural muscles and soft tissue loading, encourages nutrients to your joints and you automatically become more dynamic, which tests your balance and proprioception. It also allows you to stretch out your hip flexors which become tight in the seated position.

Although we are placing the emphasis on the importance of standing, we are not suggesting that if everyone stands all day all of our problems will be forever resolved. Yes, there are risks with excessive standing including varicose veins, lower back pain, plantar fasciitis and carotid artery disease. What we are doing here is trying to promote and educate a happy medium and not live in extreme lifestyles which can be detrimental to your health.

The Risks of Sedentary Behaviour:

Taking everything into account, the World Health Organization reports that being physically inactive comes in fourth as a leading risk factor for death. Yes, research suggests that obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and even cancer can result from a sedentary routine. However, other non-life-threatening risks exist as well.

  • Repetitive strain injury
  • Postural deformities
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Lower back Pain
  • DVTS – now being referred to as E-thrombosis if developed from sitting for long durations.
  • Reduced muscle tone
  • Tight hip flexors
  • Reduced cardiovascular fitness
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of motivation
  • Vision problems

There is No Age Limit:

From old to young we are all at risk of falling into the sitting trap. Like we’ve said, the risk of sitting isn’t just attributed to office workers. People of all ages are adopting a sedentary lifestyle because of the world we live in today. So what can we do? What should we look out for? And most importantly how can we combat this routine.

Children Under 5

There is emerging evidence that sedentary behaviour in the early years is associated with obesity as well as lower cognitive development. While this may be a challenge for busy parents, the advice reflects a growing awareness that early life experiences and habits impact our health as adults. Therefore there is a need to establish healthy patterns of behaviour from a young age to help protect against possible detrimental health in the future.

Helpful tips include

  • Monitor the time spent in infant carriers, car seats or highchairs
  • Monitor the time spent in walking aids or baby bouncers
  • Monitor the time spent in front of the TV or other screens

Young people

For children aged 5 to 18 years, reducing sitting time includes anything that involves moving in and around the home, classroom or community.

Helpful tips include:

  • Consider ways for children to “earn” screen time
  • Agree a family limit to screen time per day
  • Make bedrooms a TV- and computer-free zone where possible
  • Encourage participation in house chores
  • When choosing gifts chose ones that encourage active play
  • Encourage your children to join after school clubs, sports teams or activities


Adults aged 19 to 64  is when the biggest risks can occur, all of a sudden we have responsibilities where sitting is part of the job to earn the money that you need to live and support others. This is the time to be aware, take a step back (literally) and assess your own day to day habits and routine.
Older adults

Some older adults (aged 65 and over) are known to spend 10 hours or more each day sitting or lying down, making them the most sedentary population group. We must take into consideration that this could be due to reduced functional ability or ill health, but there are also social norms expecting those in later years to slow down. It is fully accepted that as we get older we will need to rest more, however it is advised that the periods of sitting need breaking up with light movement.

Helpful tips include:

  •  Stand up and move during TV advert breaks
  • Stand or walk while on the phone
  • Take up active hobbies such as gardening and DIY
  • Join in community-based activities
  • Take up active play with the grandchildren where possible
  • Do light types of housework

Top Tips to Combat the Seat:

The simplest way to reduce your sitting time is to stand up. You can easily alternate between sitting and standing by assigning certain tasks to one posture or another.

  • Take a break from sitting, stand up and shake your legs out or march on the spot
  • Use your workspace as a gym. Sit to stand 10 times from your office chair every hour
  • Have resistance bands by your chair and desk to use where time allows
  • Set an alarm on your watch or smartphone to prompt you to get moving every 45 minutes
  • Where possible stand on the train or bus even if there is a seat available
  • Take the stairs and walk up escalators at work or train stations
  • Go the long way around to the photocopier, toilet, printer etc
  • Alternate working whilst seated and standing
  • Place a laptop on a box or similar to work standing if you don’t have a standing work station
  • Stand or walk around while on the phone
  • Take a walk break every time you take a coffee/ tea or lunch break
  • Walk to a co-worker’s desk instead of emailing or calling them
  • Eat your lunch away from your desk
  • Where possible get some fresh air
  • Get off the train or bus one stop before and walk the rest of your journey
  • Park your car further away from the office or train station in the mornings

By doing these simple tasks consistently throughout the working day you can reduce the risk of injury and disease by up to 85%.

The Dreaded Workplace Assessment:

Considering we have established that most of us spend our days sitting down, we then need to look at the environment we are spending this time in. It is vital that we are placing ourselves in the best possible position to combat the risk factors and reduce the chances of experiencing injury or illness.


We get a lot of feedback from people suggesting they simply don’t have time to move from their sedentary position and that we just don’t understand their restraints at work or the lack of ability to be able to move. However, the dentist tells you to brush your teeth twice per day otherwise you will lose your teeth, therefore with a bit of effort we all manage to achieve this. Healthcare professionals tell you to stand once every 45 minutes to reduce injury and illness and we are failing to do this. Kick the backside of your sitting habit with both feet and then stand on them (regularly), like your life depends on it!