Professor Stuart Biddle is an international go-to expert on all things relating to physical activity and sedentary behaviour. Not only has he been instrumental in our Move More Sit Less Campaign, he is also our Key Note Speaker at the Workplace Movement Evolution on November 23. Make sure you purchase your tickets to hear him talk about what has contributed to our sedentary workplaces, and what needs to change at a social and cultural level for sitting to no longer be our default position.
Here, he shares his thoughts on what has contributed to our workplaces becoming increasingly sedentary, and what changes we need to make so sitting is no longer our default position.
Too much of a good thing?
Is sitting the ‘new smoking’? Probably not, but we certainly sit far too much and this can have negative effects on health and feelings of well-being. Professor Jeremy Morris, in the 1950s, showed that seated London bus drivers had worse health than their active counterparts who sold and checked tickets on the same buses. Other research has shown a dramatic decline in energy expenditure over the past few decades at work. This will be mainly due to a shift from ‘active’ occupations to primarily seated ones. Then, in the early 2000s, researchers started to study systematically the health effects of too much sitting. The results were clear – either too much sitting, or sitting for long uninterrupted periods, was bad for your health. This should not be a surprise. Sitting is at one end of a ‘movement continuum’, with more vigorous types of physical activity at the other. We need to change all of these movement behaviours by sitting less, moving more, and moving more energetically.
The problem is that we have created environments that encourage us to sit more and move less. If we have created more sedentary jobs, can we change this? The upsurge of interest in sit-to-stand desks is one example of where such changes have been attempted, and with some success. Such desks have been shown to help us sit less. Actually, they are not new – standing desks have been around for many years, but it is only recently that they have become more obvious and popular. Evidence shows that workers using sit-to-stand desks feel more energetic and productive. Of course, standing more is not the end of it. We must also be encouraging more movement, but I suggest that sitting less is a good start and will have benefits of their own, especially for those not highly active.
Sitting less is not just about desks. It is also about changing social norms in the workplace, such as standing mixed with sitting in meetings (and creating an environment accepting of this), and having walking meetings. These can be in addition to more standard physical activity opportunities (e.g. workplace challenges, active travel support). But we need to be creative in ways we think about this. There is still some way to go in helping people see the opportunities for sitting less and moving more, both at work and beyond. And we need to find ways to do this that are acceptable and feasible, and provide some measure of satisfaction. Motivating through health will only get us so far. Using a food analogy, it is no use devising healthy food if it doesn’t taste good or is too expensive. So the challenge for us is to find easy ways of sitting less and moving more and that ‘taste good’.
Professor Stuart Biddle
Institute for Resilient Regions
University of Southern Queensland