Americans are getting less physical activity than ever, with people now spending an average of more than 13 hours a day in a chair.
Prolonged periods of sitting are known to lead to increased obesity rates, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, diabetes – and even increased risk of cancer.
According to a study from the National Institutes of Health, those who spent over 13 hours per day sitting had double the mortality risk of those who spent less than 11 hours per day.
So far, despite the rise in office job cumulative-trauma injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, there have not been any workers’ comp claims for health issues developed from sitting at a desk. Some claims for back problems, like compressed disks, have been covered by workers’ comp in the past, but not high blood pressure and obesity.
While employers can’t be held liable for health issues that develop from sitting hours at a time, many companies are taking active steps to get workers on their feet again, and moving around – both in the workplace and during off-duty hours.
How you can help
Examples of what you as an employer can do are:
- Walking breaks. Encourage sedentary workers such as computer operators to take frequent breaks to walk around. There are significant health benefits for even short walking breaks to break up long periods of sitting, even if the caloric burn is very modest.
- Install treadmill desks. These desks allow normally sedentary workers to continue moving even while being productive at their workstations.
- Sit-and-stand workstations. Many companies have installed workstations that allow workers to alternate between sitting and standing while working. In 2014, Denmark became the first country to require employers to give workers the option of having a standing desk.
When combined with counseling and education, the sit-and-stand desk has been found to be effective in reducing sitting time by up to two hours per day, as well as the duration of sitting times.
- Install high tables. Employers have found that higher tables lead to more standing meetings – and more time standing rather than sitting.
- Have ‘walking meetings.’ Research has shown that walking meetings stimulate more creativity and more honest employee feedback than traditional meetings. And they get workers on their feet.
- Devote floor space to exercise. Some companies have found success installing exercise bikes, a basketball court, weights, yoga mats or other exercise equipment at the office – and encouraging employees to use them.
- Allow paid time off to exercise. Clif Bar, a health food company, allows its more than 200 employees up to 2½ hours of paid exercise time each week – an average of a half-hour per day. The company also employs several professional fitness trainers and conducts more than 30 exercise classes each week in its on-campus gym.
Mobify, a Vancouver tech company, holds multiple rooftop yoga classes for employees each week.
- Install some games. Bring in a ping pong or foosball table to get employees active. Studies have shown that workers more than make up for time away from their desks when they return from a period of physical activity by being more creative and productive.
Regardless of the specific measures you take in your worksite, it’s important for senior managers to take the lead. Executives should personally participate in workplace wellness and fitness initiatives – and encourage others to join them.