What are the effects of a sedentary lifestyle?

We recently predicted that prioritising self-care was one of the occupational health trends that we expect to see in 2019. Increasing activity and exercise is definitely on a lot of individual’s lists when it comes to looking after themselves.

Given that the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently suggested that people in the UK are some of the least active in the world, encouraging active working is on the agenda of many organisations’ occupational health and wellbeing strategies.

We’ve already looked at the risks of inactivity in the workplace but with increasing concerns for the amount of time that people spend on electronic devices and sat down in work, we thought it was worth revisiting the topic.

So we’ve decided to take another look at the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

What do we mean by a sedentary lifestyle?

A sedentary lifestyle is defined as a type of lifestyle where an individual does not receive regular amounts of physical activity.

It's an increasing problem, especially since the World Health Organisation also reported that 60 to 85% of the population worldwide does not engage in enough activity.

Are we more sedentary now than we used to be?

The increasing use of technology means that we are much more sedentary now than we used to be 50 years ago.

As well as the majority of modern jobs taking place in front of a computer, a growing number of social activities also take place in front of a screen, whether it’s a TV, smartphone, tablet or games console.

How is a sedentary lifestyle affecting our bodies?

A 2005 article in Science Magazine concluded that any extended sitting can be harmful.

In fact, constant physical inactivity is thought to:

  • Increase the risks of certain cancers
  • Contribute to anxiety and depression
  • Be a risk factor for certain cardiovascular diseases
  • Increase the likelihood of obesity developing coronary heart disease
  • Decrease skeletal muscle mass
  • Be linked to high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol levels

Worldwide, it is estimated that a sedentary lifestyle is responsible for 6% of coronary heart disease cases, 7% of type 2 diabetes, 10% of breast cancer and 10% of colon cancer cases.

Recent reports even suggested that inactivity is responsible for more annual deaths than smoking.

You can find a list of the top ten risks that relate to sedentary behaviour on the Get Britain Standing website.

But it shouldn’t be all doom and gloom. It is possible to address this trend towards inactivity in the workplace and encourage staff to move about more.

Sit less and move more

Dr Keith Diaz, an expert in behavioural medicine at Columbia University, co-authored a study that analysed data from almost 8,000 adults in the US aged 45 or older.

Participants wore an activity tracker for a few days a week over a 4-year period between 2009 and 2013. They were found to be sedentary for an average of 11.5 hours during their waking hours.

Whether in short or long bouts, sitting was found to be harmful. So much so that almost 650 participants had died by 2017.

The study concluded that by simply replacing 30 minutes of sitting with 30 minutes of moving over the course of the day, the risk of death reduced by 17%. This increased to 35% when the activity was more intense, such as running or cycling.

How can you reduce the effects of a sedentary lifestyle?

Dr Diaz’s advice was simple; sit less and move more.

By employing occupational health and wellbeing strategies, organisations can help to encourage employees to increase activity and reduce the amount of time that they spend sitting.

Here are five simple ways to increase movement in the work environment:

  1. Encourage people to use the stairs rather than the lift
  2. Get staff to stand up and move around while talking on the phone
  3. Introduce sit/stand desks into your office
  4. Have walk-and-talk meetings
  5. Create walk-to-work or bike-to-work schemes

We’ve also put together some easy exercises for call-centre employees and some warm-up-for-work stretches in our On Your Feet Britain 2018 blog


As life becomes increasingly sedentary both in and out of work, ensuring that employees stay active is vital.

If you want to find out how our occupational health services can help to achieve this, give us a call.

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Categories: EmployeesHealth & WellbeingOccupational Health

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