Office workers unaware of the dangers of sitting

By June Shannon Heart News   |   9th Sep 2019

Office workers who received positive based nudges to sit less and move more during the working day were more likely to act

Office workers are not aware of the health dangers of sitting for too long and wrongly believe that because they go to the gym or exercise after work, this would negate the harmful effects of prolonged sitting, according to new research.

The study, which was carried out by Kirsty Simpson, Senior College Advisor at the University of Derby in the UK, as part of a master’s degree in health psychology, supervised by Dr Vicki Staples, looked at the effectiveness of workplace prompts to reduce sedentary behaviour. It also found that positive messages outlining the positive health benefits of sitting less, were much more effective than negative messages.

For the study Ms Simpson posted prompts in the form of posters with various messages around the office area, lift doors, corridors etc. of approximately 40 members of the administrative staff at Derby University in the UK. She also held five small focus groups made up of 16 staff.

The posters contained positive messages such as, “if you take the stairs you will burn xx calories” and negative messages e.g. ‘If you don’t move more you will increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Speaking to the Irish Heart Foundation, Ms Simpson said, previous research has shown that electronic nudges such as email or push notifications did not work well as they interrupted workflow and were perceived quite negatively by staff.

“There is a lot of research out there that says message framing will impact how people see the message. Positive framed messages were perceived better by the sample I interviewed. So, if we are going to use anything to try and break sedentary behaviour, we have to use messages like, “taking a short walk will have this positive impact,” she said.

Positive messages were also more likely to be more well received, remembered and acted upon, she added.

" They did not realise that something as simple as standing up for 60 seconds to take a phone call would be beneficial for their health."

Kirsty Simpson, Senior College Advisor, The University of Derby, UK

According to Ms Simpson, her study found that workplaces needed to allow office workers to move more throughout the day and any health promotional messages aimed at reducing sedentary time needed to be delivered by management or have management support.

A lack of awareness of the health dangers of sitting for too long emerged from the focus groups, with many participants wrongly presuming that it didn’t matter that they sat all day at work because they went to the gym or ran in the evenings.

It is recommended that we get 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity at least five days a week. However, this does not cancel out the damage caused to our health by sitting for long periods of time.

Ms Simpson said the lack of awareness of the dangers of prolonged sitting was unanimous across the groups and the vast majority of office workers thought that only peak physical activity, such as a run or high intensity gym session, was beneficial for health. They did not realise that something as simple as standing up for 60 seconds to take a phone call would be beneficial for their health.

According to Ms Simpson, the lack of awareness among office workers that small changes throughout the working day, such as going for a ten minute walk at lunchtime would be beneficial for their health was understandable, as a lot of health promotional campaigns pushed the need for high intensity physical activity and that needed to change.

In conclusion, Ms Simpson said it was important to underline how easy it was to break sedentary behaviour by sitting less and moving more throughout the working day.

“You don’t have to do anything exhaustive; you don’t have to break a sweat. Just stand up and take a phone call for 60 seconds, it can be as easy as that. I think the key message that I would like to get across is the simplicity of this and the massive health benefits that can come from doing something so small,” she said.

" The key message that I would like to get across is the simplicity of this and the massive health benefits that can come from doing something so small,”

Kirsty Simpson, Senior College Advisor, University of Derby, UK

This September, The Irish Heart Foundation is encouraging everyone to sit less and move more with its month long heart health campaign entitled, ‘Escape Your Chair’.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of prolonged sitting as a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Higher levels of sedentary behaviour are associated with a 147 per cent increase in the risk of heart disease and stroke. There is increasing evidence that the positive health benefits of exercise may not entirely counteract the negative effects of a mostly sedentary lifestyle.

As part of its #EscapeYourChair heart month campaign, the Irish Heart Foundation has created a range of resources to help people move more and sit less. These include, an online sitting time calculator, a Deskercise video, a Move More Walking Challenge, a Couch to 5k guide, as well as expert tips and advice on how to increase physical activity levels. These are available at www.EscapeYourChair.ie.

On Saturday, September 28th at 9.30am, the Irish Heart Foundation is encouraging everyone to walk, jog, or run at their local parkrun for the Irish Heart Foundation’s ‘Heart Hero 5K’ in association with parkrun Ireland. To encourage and everyone to get involved, the Irish Heart Foundation is providing a number of different training guides and plans.

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escape your chair exercise heart disease office workers sedentary sedentary behaviour sitting time stroke

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