Is sitting the new smoking? Tips for workplace health & wellness January 16th, 2013, by Ken Buckley

Putting workplace health & wellness into practice in your organisation

Just a few decades ago, it was considered quite commonplace for employees to smoke in the workplace. Now that idea is preposterous.

These days, it’s considered quite commonplace for employees to sit for hours on end in the workplace. In a decades’ time, will this seem preposterous?

Is sitting the new smoking?

Dr James Levine, endocrinologist and obesity researcher from Mayo Clinic in the US believes so. Levine says the health effects of sitting for long periods of time each day are as bad as the health effects of smoking.

Researchers have linked sitting for long periods of time with a number of health concerns, including obesity and metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that includes increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol level,” says Levine. 

People who sit for long periods of time are more prone to developing diabetes, increased blood pressure and multiple cancers. They’re also more prone to depression.

The good news is the solution is quite simple and do-able: move more. It’s not about mega gym workouts, it’s about including more movement into your regular day. “The impact of movement — even leisurely movement — can be profound,” says Levine.

So what can you, as the HR or OHS Manager in your organisation, do about it?

Converting all your employees’ desks to workstations might be a bit of a fight – in terms of budget and convincing some employees!

But there are practical, effective steps you can take to help your office-based workforce healthy.

Not only will it improve the wellbeing of your office-based employees, but it will send a strong message that your organisation cares about their health, and that you’re up with the latest research.

1.     Encourage employees to get up more

Communicate the need to stand up more and the health risks of too much sitting.

Give your employees and team leaders suggestions to combat this, such as:

–       Always stand up to talk on the phone

–       Set an alarm every 30 minutes to stand and stretch (as an individual or as a team)

–       To send a clear message, you could consider moving all the chairs in the lunchroom/ cafeteria just for one day, and tell them why.

2.     Hold stand-up meetings

Encourage employees and managers to hold their meetings standing up. This has the added advantage of keeping meetings shorter, and it imbues a sense of energy.

Stand up team briefings are short, sharp and purposeful. Even bigger meetings such as monthly updates can be done standing up. Throw in some stretching exercises at the beginning to really send the message home!

3.     Get execs to model behaviour

The troops won’t do it if their managers don’t. Encourage your senior execs to stand up more in and around their office, and to hold stand up meetings themselves. Take photos and post them on the intranet or circulate them around.


Do you have ways to encourage standing at your workplace as part of your workplace health & wellness initiative? Tell us your tips and tricks in the comments below.

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