Sitting @ Work: A New Perspective for Employee Wellness

Quick Facts:

Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults “accumulate a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more.”1  Approximately 15 percent of Canadian adults actually meet these guidelines on a regular basis.  Even more concerning is the fact that approximately 69 percent of Canadian adults’ waking hours is spent sitting – about 9.7 hours each day.2

Research shows that sitting at work accounts for one-half to one-third of sitting time.3,4  Sitting at a desk, in meetings and while commuting to and from work, all contribute to a vast majority of jobs being quite sedentary.5  Many technological advances over recent decades have contributed to this rising trend.

Sitting for long periods of time increases the risk for:
• Premature death 6,7
• Diabetes 6,8,9
• Osteoporosis  10
• Heart disease 6,7
• High blood pressure 10,11
• Obesity 9,10,11,12,13
• Cancer 7,14

Those people who are physically active on a regular basis should not presume they are immune. New research is emerging that the health risks associated with sitting for long periods is not undone by engaging in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.14, 15

Employees have identified that when they sit for long periods of time they feel mentally and physically exhausted, sluggish, stressed, depressed, socially isolated and trapped. These feelings contribute to a loss of productivity, poor performance on the job and disengagement with day-to-day tasks. 16,17

It is important to encourage and support employees to get up and move for one to three minutes after 60 minutes of continuous sitting.14 This can be as simple as moving from a sitting to a standing position or from standing still to taking a few steps.18  Not only will there be health benefits, but also improvements in self-esteem and feelings of stress.

Online Resources:

City of Presque Isle, Maine - “Sit for 60, Move for 3”
A great workplace example of a comprehensive strategy to break up long periods of sitting

NDPERS Wellness: “Sit for 60, Move for 3” challenge
Instructions and supporting resources to run a challenge to break up sitting time in the workplace

American Institute for Cancer Research – “3 Minute Office Workouts”
Online video shows quick workouts that can be done in your office or at home for a quick mid-day pick-me-up to break up sitting time

Sneak It In Week
This week is organized by ParticipACTION and runs from April 9-13, 2012. It is an example of an easy type of campaign workplaces could offer at any time of the year.

Books available

The following two books are now available through the Region of Waterloo Public Health Resource Centre.

Booster Breaks: Improving employee health one break at a time. Authors: Wendell C Taylor & Karen L Pepkin
Instant Recess: Building a Fit Nation 10 Minutes at a Time   Author: Toni Yancey

If you would like to borrow our books and publications contact the Resource Centre by email or by phone (519-883-2256).

Mark Your Calendars - Upcoming Events:

Project Health Networking session –Region of Waterloo Public Health Networking Session “Resetting the Pace: Promoting and Supporting Walking during the Work Day” is planned for Thursday June 7, 2012 from 12 – 2 p.m. Stay tuned for information about registration.

National Cancer Month
Sneak It In Week (ParticipACTION)  April 9-13, 2012

National Mental Heath Week May 7-14, 2012
World No Tobacco Day          May 31, 2012

World Breastfeeding Week – August 1-7, 2012

World Car Free Day - September 12, 2012  

Canada's Healthy Workplace Month


1 Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines – Adults (18-64 years) [Internet]. Ottawa,ON: Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology; 2011 [cited 2011 Nov 7]. Available from:
2 Colley RC, Garriguet D, Janssen I, Craig CL, Clarke J, Tremblay MS. Physical activity of Canadian adults: accelerometer results from the 2007 to 2009 Canadian Health Measures Survey. (Catalogue 82-003-XPE) Statistics Canada, Health Reports. 2011 Mar;22(1).
3 Miller R, Brown W. Steps and sitting in a working population. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. 2004; 11: 219-224.
4 Jans MP, Proper KI, Hidebrandt VH. Sedentary behaviour in Dutch workers: differences between occupations and business sectors. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2007;33(6): 450-454
5 Ipsos [Internet]. New York:Ipsos; 2010. Three out of four full-time employees of large companies wish they didn’t spend most of their working hours sitting; 2010 Aug 19 [cited 2011 Nov 25]. Available from:
6 Proper KI, Singh AS, van Mechelen W, Chinapaw MJM. Sedentary behaviours and health outcomes among adults: a systematic review of prospective studies. Am J of Prev Med. 2011;40(2): 174-182.
7 Katzmarzyk PT, Church TS, Craig CL, Bouchard C. Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(5): 998-1005.
8 Van Uffelen JGZ, Wong J, Chau JY, van der Ploeg HP, Riphagen I, Gilson ND, Burton NW, Healy GN, Thorp AA, Clark BK, Gardiner PA, Dunstan DW, Bauman A, Owen N, Brown WJ. Occupational sitting and health risks: a systematic review. Am J Prev Med. 2010;39(4): 379-388.
9 Hu FB, Li TY, Colditz GA, Willett WC, Manson JE. Television watching and other sedentary behaviours in relation to risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes medllitus in women. JAMA. 2003;289: 1785-1791.
10 Tremblay MS, Colley RC, Saunders TJ, Healy GN, Owen N. Physiological and health implications of a sedentary lifestyle. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2010;35: 725-740.
11 Healy GN, Matthews CE, Dunstan DW, Winkler EAH, Owen N. Sedentary time and cardio-metabolic biomarkers in US adults: NHANES 2003-06. Eur Heart J. 2011;32(5): 590-597.
12 Shields M, Tremblay MS. Sedentary behaviour and obesity. (Catalogue 82-003) Statistics Canada, Health Reports. 2008;19(2): 19-30.
13 Mummery WK, Schofield GM, Steele R, Eakin EG, Brown WJ. Occupational sitting time and overweight and obesity in Australian workers. Amer J Prev Med. 2005;29(2): 91-97.
14 American Institute for Cancer Research [Internet]. Washington:2011. New Research: Getting Up From Your Desk Can Put the “Breaks” on Cancer (AICR Annual Research Conference Media Release); 2011 Nov 3 [cited 2011 Nov 23]. Available from
15 Patel AV, Bernstein L, Deka A, Feigelson HS, Campbell PT, Gapstur SM, Colditz GA, Thun MJ. Leisure time spent sitting in relation to total mortality in a prospective cohort of US adults. Amer J Epidemiol. 2010;172(4): 419-429.
16 Puig-Ribera AM, Martinez-Lemos I, Gine-Garriga M, Fortuno J, Gonzalez-Suarez AM, Bort-Roig J, Gilson N. Occupational sitting time, job productivity and related work loss in Spanish university employees. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43(5): 542.
17 Gilson ND, Burton NW, van Uffelen JGZ, Brown WJ. Occupational sitting time: employees’ perceptions of health risks and intervention strategies. Health Promot J Austr. 2011;22(1): 38-43.
18 Healy GN, Dunstan DW, Salmon J, Cerin E, Shaw JE, Zimmet PZ, Owen N. Breaks in sedentary time: beneficial associations with metabolic risk. Diabetes Care. 2008;31(4): 661-666.