During these unprecedented times, in some instance’s individuals are facing their whole day within their house. This change in work environment has eliminated daily commuting, the office setting, and limited time spent outdoors. Despite commuting and sitting within an office being sedentary in nature, these activities often involve some degree of physical activity, such as walking when getting to work, moving around the office, attending meetings and having lunch. Now individuals are working from home and meetings are done remotely the fear is that individuals will be seated throughout their 9-5 work and then sedentary in the evenings/leisure time watching television, reading or playing computer games. With restrictions in place, gyms, parks and other outdoor leisure pursuit areas closed, a reduction in regular exercise for some people may occur. Sedentary breaks are therefore increasingly important as longer sedentary time has been associated with greater risk of weight gain, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Currently a lot of guidance and initiatives are promoting sedentary breaks such as: ‘Sit less, move more’ or ‘SMArT Work’ (Standing more at work). Taking breaks and interrupting prolonged sitting is important for our physical and mental health and has been linked to cognitive function and work productivity. It has been shown that greater number of sedentary interruptions is beneficially associated with metabolic risk variables such as fasting glucose, triglycerides and waist circumference (Healy et al., 2008). A recent study investigating standing and light intensity walking breaks found that daytime sleepiness was significantly lower when completing walking breaks compared to prolonged sitting (Yates et al., 2018).
Guidance on Achieving Regular Breaks to Avoid Prolonged Sitting:
Set an alarm
By setting an alarm or timer every 30 minutes, it provides a reminder to yourself to take a physical activity break. It is suggested to break sedentary time for a minimum of a minute but most research would suggest between two to five minutes to achieve health benefits.
Intersperse your workload
If a constant timer inhibits your productivity, it may be beneficial to take physical activity breaks after the completion of your work tasks, such as after emails, during phone calls and after video meetings.
Create a standing desk environment
If you want to break prolonged sitting but are in a good workflow, tight deadline or a remote meeting a standing desk may be beneficial, it breaks sedentary time and allows you to continue working in an upright position. A standing desk can be fashioned together using a stack of books or a smaller table on top of your current desk.
Be aware of your workspace
Whilst this may sound counter-productive to your workflow and productivity. If you currently have a printer/scanner, shredder, bin or coffee machine all within your office space the reasons to stand and move are limited. If it was possible to move these machines away from your desk or even into another room, you are encouraging yourself to break prolonged sitting.
Stand/walk when you can
Take note of activities you can complete standing or walking, if you are on the phone or reading a document can this be done standing? If you are having a tea/coffee break, can you walk around the garden or living room rather than being seated?
In summary, we need to be increasingly aware of our sedentary time especially in circumstances where your typical physical activity and exercise has reduced due to the current COVID-19 restrictions. Whilst an optimal office space is ideal for work productivity it may hinder your opportunities for natural physical activity breaks. If you begin to implement sedentary breaks, try to focus on breaking every hour of sitting with 1 to 2 sedentary breaks for preferably two to five minutes of walking when possible, with standing used as a break if you are required to remain by a computer.
- Healy, G.N., Dunstan, D.W., Salmon, J., Cerin, E., Shaw, J.E., Zimmet, P.Z. and Owen, N., 2008. Breaks in sedentary time: beneficial associations with metabolic risk. Diabetes care, 31(4), pp. 661-666.
- Yates, T.E., Edwardson, C.L., Celis-Morales, C., Biddle, S.J., Bodicoat, D.H., Davies, M.J., Esliger, D.W., Henson, J., Kazi, A., Khunti, K. and Sattar, N., 2018. Metabolic effects of breaking prolonged sitting with standing or light walking in older South Asians and White Europeans: a randomized acute study. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci, pp. 1-8.
Aidan Buffey is a PhD student in the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences. He is funded by the Health Research Institue and supervised by Prof. Alan Donnelly and Dr Brian Carson. Aidan is in the first year of his PhD project titled ‘Design and evaluation of an intervention to reduce sedentary behaviour and improve health in older adults’. This project aims to implement an office-based intervention designed to interrupt sedentary behaviour with light-intensity physical activity with an emphasis on improving cardiometabolic health markers. Aidan has an MSc in Sport and Exercise Science – Physiology (Manchester Metropolitan University, 2018-2019) and a BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science (Manchester Metropolitan University, 2015-2018). Contact Adrian at email@example.com or follow him on @AidanBuffey on LinkedIn or Researchgate