Here at Synergy Health we are often asked about the dangers of excessive workplace sitting and the strategies that workplaces can implement to alleviate these risks. Often stand-up desks are considered the answer to all of our sedentary concerns. But is standing up enough?
At our offices we have been using stand-up desks for over 5 years, and we are very pleased to see their integration more and more into the everyday office space. At Synergy Health, we have even added treadmills under some desks to help our team achieve our healthy habit number three - ‘Move Slowly Lots’ during the work day. So whilst we are big fans of the stand-up desk, we also know that standing up is not enough.
We have answered some FAQ below on the stand-up / sitting health debate.
How seriously should we take the health risks of ‘excessive sitting’?
Too little movement throughout the day can certainly have a detrimental effect on us. The research is generally indicative of there being a detrimental effect to our physiology from prolonged sitting. We are mindful, however, of the limitations of what such research can show us, and how this research can be interpreted.
What are the physiological effects of too much sitting?
We see changes in physiological parameters with prolonged sitting time, such as increased insulin resistance, impaired blood vessel function, blood flow, and decreases in good cholesterol, which can result in a decline in overall metabolic health (which very basically means how healthy the cells in your body are).
Is it something that we should be very concerned about?
We believe that it is only one piece of the wellbeing puzzle.
We ask could it be that the detrimental effects on health noticed around increased sitting time merely highlights the lifestyle issues that we are all faced with as part of our busy lifestyles. Perhaps our staff member, who sits for prolonged periods, is the same person who struggles to achieve good quality sleep due to stress or family life and/or children. Perhaps that same person makes less than desirable dietary decisions due to tiredness and as a result surfs a sugar wave for most of the day. Perhaps their mental health suffers as a result and they are less resilient, more accident prone, less inclusive and supportive to change in the workplace, and less likely to stand up throughout the day?
How could a workplace wellbeing program incorporate measures to reduce excessive sitting risks?
It is fantastic to provide stand up desks to your staff, to encourage more movement throughout the day with ‘sneaker meetings’ (even ‘stand up meetings’ can have a good effect on the productivity of a morning at work), allowing access to the stairs for moving between floors, providing shower access and incentivising those who choose to actively commute are all very practical ways to encourage a physically fit culture.
We passionately believe, however, that a wellbeing program should be holistic in nature. Our programs incorporate no less than 10 Healthy Habits, as we believe that ‘good health’ is a build-up of all the small decisions an individual makes throughout their day / week / month.
In our experience, purely focusing on one area of health, be it physical or otherwise, will not necessarily change behaviour long-term. Quite frankly, we believe that in many cases, we may actually have bigger fish to fry with nutrition, exercise and smoking rates at what they currently are.
We often know that our behaviours are unhealthy. However, it is motivating our people to behave differently that we believe is the real key to wellbeing success.
How do we achieve overall wellbeing success across an organisation?
- We treat the person as a whole person. We use sophisticated software to provide a personalised experience and we direct them to the content and resources most beneficial to them.
- We measure well. We ensure that we are strategic in our approach with real time data to track key health risks throughout an organisation and its departments. We can then focus our energy in the right area, provide the right resources and measure return over time.
- We customise depending on the audience, industry specific challenges and the individuals within the organisation.
- We keep it diverse in nature and we focus on all aspects of health including and not limited to nutrition, exercise, sleep, safety, mental health, inclusion and diversity.
- We provide family support and integration. Because health doesn’t just take place at work.
- We provide the tools and resources for individuals to take responsibility for their own engagement.
- We build a behaviour change component into every single workplace wellbeing program, because simply knowing that our behaviours might not be the best for us is not often enough of a driver to create positive behaviour changes. After all, if it were that simple, we would all already be doing it, right?
So in a nutshell it isn’t great for our people to spend too much time sitting. But it is important to remember that all of the healthy habits are interlinked, and we cannot treat one separately to the others in order to maximise the health and wellbeing of our employees, minimise our safety risks, and create an inclusive workplace.
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