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Issue: 40 - Apr 16, 2012
10 Ways to Help Employees Stand up for Better Health
By: Maureen Blaney Flietner
Mavourneen LLC/MBF Communications
Yet another study – this one led by the University of Sydney -- recently linked more time spent sitting to higher health risks. 
According to that Australian study, those who sat 11 or more hours per day – that includes time spent at work, at home and in traffic -- had a 40% increased risk of dying in the next three years compared with those who sat for fewer than four hours a day. 

The study adds to the pile of data about the detrimental effects of sitting. An earlier Australian study found that the more time spent sitting, the greater the risk of obesity. A 2010  American Cancer Society study found that it’s both how much physical activity a person gets and how much time they spend sitting that affects the risk of death. 
ACS researchers led by Alpa Patel, Ph.D., found that women who reported more than six hours per day of sitting were 37% more likely to die during the time period studied than those who sat fewer than three hours a day. Men who sat more than six hours a day were 18% more likely to die than those who sat fewer than three hours per day.

For those not physically active, the percentages were worse. Women and men who both sat more and were less physically active were 94% and 48% more likely, respectively, to die compared with those who reported sitting the least and being most active.
According to ACS’s Patel,  the risks come because prolonged time spent sitting, independent of physical activity, has important metabolic consequences. It may influence things like triglycerides, high density lipoprotein, cholesterol, fasting plasma glucose, resting blood pressure, and leptin, which are biomarkers of obesity and cardiovascular and other chronic diseases.

So how can this information be translated into an actionable strategy for your business? While veterinarians, technicians and a few others may be on the move most of the workday, there are others --  in the reception area, lab or business office – that may be sitting for too long.
You can’t control what your employees do away from work. You can incorporate strategies for work that could help them and may benefit your health care costs. Several experts offered suggestions about how a business can get its staff up and moving.
Here are 10 tips to consider:
  1. Have employees park at the far end of the parking lot.
  2. Encourage employees to get up and walk to another’s desk, the lab or other rooms instead of phoning, sending an instant message or emailing, suggests ACS’s Patel. Consider inexpensive kitchen timers for desks to be used as reminders to stand and move.
  3. Set up a shared printer that everyone must walk to to retrieve print jobs.
  4. Urge employees to stand when talking to clients on the phone.
  5. Suggest standing lunches as well as 10-minute walks after lunch or group walks at lunch.
  6. Hold "standing meetings,” says Patel. When you have a regularly scheduled staff meeting, stand instead of sit. She suggests adding some high-top tables to your meeting room.
  7. Rethink your office furniture, says James M. Herzog, MS, OTR/L, certified ergonomics associate. He suggests having at least one workstation that can be adjusted from sitting to standing. “I heard an exercise physiologist state at a conference that he would guarantee a 10-pound weight loss if a person would only stand for half their day - and change nothing else. Now that's an interesting thought.” Just moving some work to a countertop can be a start.
  8. Consider adding a desk that works with a treadmill, says Herzog. “It goes very slowly and is primarily for desk-based work.” Employees can take turns getting used to it before another is added. The idea of the treadmill desk is not new. It was the focus of a 2005 study by Dr. James Levine, an endocrinologist at Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn., who then became its advocate. A social network – -- has even evolved around the practice.
  9. Encourage work breaks that involve activity. Rather than just having employees retreat to a lounge or cafeteria to sit for a snack, suggest a walk around the block. For indoor activity, set up exercise or stretching stations around the lounge or cafeteria. N. Travis Triplett, PhD, Professor of Exercise Science at Appalachian State University, suggests that even doing sitting stretches and muscle contractions – the ones often advocated for long plane trips – may be beneficial. They may be a good way to start for those who need to build their strength and stamina.
  10. Set aside a room with a few pieces of exercise equipment and hire a certified personal trainer for a day to demonstrate simple exercises. Triplett suggests that stability balls, for example, can be used for wall squats to strengthen the legs. In this exercise, the ball, positioned in the back, rolls down and up the wall with the squatting and standing motion, which helps to strengthen the leg muscles. A shoulder-width stance with the feet out in front so the body leans against the ball is the safest position, says Triplett. A few small hand weights or stretchy bands could be other options.
Maureen Blaney Flietner is a fulltime writer, editor and designer who has crafted messages for target audiences for more than 11 years. If there is a topic you would like discussed or want to learn more about her services, visit her website at or email her at