It has been well established that high levels of sitting can negatively impact on health and wellbeing, including increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Workplace sitting time has been recognised as an emergent occupational health and safety risk, with research now dedicated to finding effective, feasible and cost-effective strategies to reduce sitting time and promote activity.
To date, only two studies (Brakenridge et al. 2018; Stephens et al., 2018), have evaluated sitting-reduction strategy use in workplace interventions and the effectiveness of strategy selection on behaviour change outcomes. Both these studies are authored by members of the BeUpstanding team: Dr Charlotte Brakenridge and Dr Samantha Stephens.
What were these studies about?
These two studies evaluated what strategies workers chose during the intervention, and whether these strategies led to reductions in sitting time and/or increases in activity.
Dr Brakenridge worked collaboratively with a workplace champion at one large organisation to understand the impact of organisational support, wearable technology, as well as other behaviour change strategies, on workplace sitting and activity time. Within this study, the workplace champion delivered the intervention and provided support to promote the strategies, specifically: walking meetings; standing in meetings and using the stairs instead of the lifts. All participants received this support through an information booklet and welcome email, regular emails, workplace health presentation and ongoing discussions with managers. Some participants also received a wearable activity tracker.
Dr Stephens evaluated strategy use in an intervention where workers received sit-stand desks but could also select their own additional behaviour change strategies. The study was conducted over 14 worksites at one organisation, where worksites were either randomised to the intervention or a control group.
What was measured?
Both studies collected data at baseline and three months using a combination of questionnaires and activity monitors. The type of data collected included strategy use, perceived workplace support and behaviour change.
What was found?
In study 1, workers increased use in a range of strategies over time, particularly those that could be incorporated into work tasks such as standing and walking meetings. Workers who participated in more standing meetings reduced long periods of sitting time. Other strategies that led to sitting or activity changes were using the stairs, a centralised bin, group physical activity sessions and pedometer competitions. In addition, the findings highlighted the importance of workplace support for behaviour change, with perceived managerial and collegial support also leading to sitting and prolonged sitting reductions.
For study 2, participants chose a range of strategies. Using a sit-stand desk for over 3 hours a day and/or using a sit-stand desk with phone-based strategies such as standing up to take calls were associated with reductions in long periods of sitting, while walking to a colleague instead of emailing was associated with increases in activity.
What else do we know about strategy use in workplaces?
In addition to the studies above, recent reviews and studies have shown the effectiveness for sit-stand desks for sitting time reductions and treadmill and cycling desks for increases in activity (Michalchuk, 2022; Guirado et al., T). However, cycle and treadmill desks do have drawbacks in that they may impact on work performance (Podrekar et al., 2020), while sit-stand desks have generally found a neutral effect on performance (Sui et al., 2019). Standing meetings are also a feasible and effective strategy, whereas walking meetings may be less feasible for some workers (Danquah et al., 2020). The findings from the literature for computer prompt software are mixed but promising (Taylor et al., 2021). Whereas the evidence for apps shows limited sustained effectiveness (Mamede et al., 2021) or limited effectiveness during work hours (Bort Roig et al., 2020).
What does all this mean?
Our knowledge of effective and feasible strategies continues to grow. These studies outline that strategies that can be incorporated into work tasks and manager and co-worker support are useful strategies for promoting behaviour change.
The information in these studies, and other research, was used by Dr Brakenridge to develop a menu of potential strategies to support workers to sit less and move more according to the hierarchy of control. This table also summarised the known effectiveness of the strategy, the acceptability and feasibility, as well as the indicative costs. This resource is available on the BeUpstanding site as part of the free resources.
What strategies work for you and your team? Share your experiences with us!
This blog article was written by Dr Charlotte Brakenridge and Kiara Too as part of the 2022 Summer Research Scholarship Program conducted with the Health and Wellbeing Centre for Research Innovation