Are you sitting down to read this? June 7th, 2013, by Ken Buckley

In January I blogged about sitting being the new smoking. It seems this idea is gaining traction in mainstream media, with recent articles in the Sydney Morning Herald, LA Times and NBC.

It’s a real concern for many workplaces, particularly employers of white collar and knowledge workers.

It’s particularly interesting that the health issues caused by prolonged sitting are not fully reversed simply by adding a workout into your day. Your employees could work out for an hour every morning, but if they’re sitting at their desks for eight or nine hours a day, they are still facing significant health risks.

The real key seems to be to educate and support your employees to add more movement all throughout their day.

While you can do a few things to encourage more movement (meet standing up, lead stretch breaks every hour), it would seem that a whole new approach to how we sit and move in our daily lives is required.

Let’s face it, the advances in technology we see every month are not conducive to more activity. Sure, some would argue that time-saving technology frees up our time so we can spend more of our day in active recreation, in reality that doesn’t happen. Sure, we can pay our bills online in our lunchtime in a quarter of the time it would have taken us a decade ago to queue at the bank, but we rarely use that saved time to go for a brisk walk. Instead, we go right back to answering emails and working – while still sitting down.

Some jobs are more conducive to movement than others. Many Execs whose workday involves meetings and decision-making do not need to be desk bound. But for call-centre operators, or accounts personnel who need to be next to a screen and a phone, getting up and walking around requires a break from productive work. There’s little point in replacing sitting with “standing still for hours on end”, as this plays havoc with backs and joints.

The most successful employers, those who look to proactively attract and retain talent, will be making changes to the way their people work. They’ll provide alternatives such as adjustable workstations, they’ll schedule stand & walk breaks, they’ll provide cordless headsets and encourage employees to stand up when on the phone, they’ll change the way teams meet and interact by reducing “sitting meetings”. They’ll offer high value wellness programs that help employees change their habits and develop healthier more active lifestyles at work and away.

For many organisations, this will need to be formalised in policies and procedures. For others, it’s a matter of continuously encouraging and role modelling the new active behaviour.

Start thinking about ways your employees can incorporate more movement into their day. Ask for their ideas, and respond with concrete change. Start small and think big. Start by standing up now!

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